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Western Railroad Discussion > When Grade Crossings AWD Malfunction?!


Date: 09/29/11 16:46
When Grade Crossings AWD Malfunction?!
Author: dlocher

I was downtown Fresno recently at a client and I noticed a string of cars backed up. Looking towards the tracks, I saw what appeared to be all arms down but one at a 45 degree angle. Puzzled (and bored), I parked down a ways and walked back to see the AWD (is that the proper term for crossing lights/arms?) was in fact working. There were no trains in sight and after listening to people, I could tell they were down for a while.

Just to be sure, I called BNSF and they were aware of it, I also mentioned people were circumventing the gates to let people through. He told me they weren't supposed to do that and I let him know I was well aware of that and wasn't doing it myself. This was more of conveying the confusion of the scene and safety was now a concern.

The part that had me worried was the EB signal was green on the main, of course I knew what this meant. A freight train did indeed come through and luckily the crew was informed of the malfunction and must of had slow orders because they were going slooooow. The engineer was all over the horn too which I thought was cool since it was a quiet zone. After he had cleared the grade crossing, he punched it and was back up to track speed after a bit.

Of course after he cleared the crossing, the arms failed to go up and the cycle started all over. People sharing time, lifting the gates and letting people through. There was even a policeman on scene and briefly told the guy holding the gate that he couldn't do that. The guy continued to hold the gate and the cop left. Again the EB signal showed green for the main. Once I saw the train, I yelled at the guy holding the gate watching traffic and not the tracks that there was a train approaching. He held it up for another 3-4 cars then let it down. Nobody was in any imminent danger since the train was going so slow. I could tell the crews were very nervous (good for them), they both were looking hard in all directions upon approach. Once again, once they cleared the crossing they worked on getting back to track speed.

The next EB train was the local and it actually stopped short prior to entering the intersection. At this time a BNSF signalman showed up and quickly fixed the problem. He stated a board had vibrated loose and it was a quick fix.

So (sorry for all of the text), what are the laws for people and for trains on a situation like this? I can see something bad happening by somebody holding the gates up not understanding how rails work.

NOTE: It is not my intention to get anybody in trouble here, I am concerned with safety of course but also how this scenario is supposed to be handled. I was thinking of just posting this first picture with the caption "What's wrong with this picture", but out of context it may have started a flame war :)

David Locher
Fresno, CA







Date: 09/29/11 17:48
Re: When Grade Crossings AWD Malfunction?!
Author: imrl

The law is pretty clear. It is illegal to drive around lowered gates or to raise lowered gates and drive under them. The only people who are allowed (typically) to flag people through are either law enforcement or a railroad employee. I'm not sure as far as rules governing a signal maintainer, but train service employees are not allowed to flag vehicles through a malfunctioning crossing. The only legal recourse is to find an alternate route.



Date: 09/29/11 19:21
Re: When Grade Crossings AWD Malfunction?!
Author: RustyRayls

The cop should have MADE the clown stop raising the gates or arrested him! If the lights are flashing and someone goes through the crossing, they just broke the law and should be ticketed.

Old Bob out in Lost Wages

P.S. ---- This could get pretty interesting out in the middle of nowhere when "finding another route" (think about the US-95 / Arrowhead Junction crossing on the Needles Sub) around a malfunctioning crossing signal could mean a hundred mile + detour!!



Date: 09/29/11 19:40
Re: When Grade Crossings AWD Malfunction?!
Author: dlocher

Sooo, this isn't a good picture for OLS? :)

David Locher
Fresno, CA
http://www.youtube.com/learnwithgern



Date: 09/29/11 19:56
Re: When Grade Crossings AWD Malfunction?!
Author: RNBX

Dave ,

Actually this set of photos may be of use by OL to point out just how dumb some activities around crossings can be. As a past OL presenter, thanks for sharing them with us.



Date: 09/29/11 23:55
Re: When Grade Crossings AWD Malfunction?!
Author: funnelfan

What's worse exactly, a guy holding up a obviously malfunctioning crossing gate. Or have we become so politically correct that we cannot solve a rather simple problem and help each other out. If the trains were already slowing for the crossing, then it's obvious that the dispatcher had already issued a crossing warning. Years ago I held up a crossing gate and flagged traffic across one side of a crossing while a signal maintainer fixed a contact problem in the other gate.

Ted Curphey
Cheney, WA



Date: 09/30/11 06:06
Re: When Grade Crossings AWD Malfunction?!
Author: CShaveRR

Ted, you were very noble to provide another pair of hands for the signalman in your case (I presume you had his knowledge and approval of what you were doing). But to go and do that on your own is a violation of laws, and good intentions are seldom accepted as an excuse.

I'm a little surprised that it took signal that long to get there and address the problem--there were two through trains and a local train that the o.p. saw after he had turned in a problem that they already knew about.

Carl Shaver
Lombard, IL



Date: 09/30/11 06:39
Re: When Grade Crossings AWD Malfunction?!
Author: imrl

I'm going to play a bit of devils advocate here for a minute. Lets make a few assumptions for a worst case scenario. Picture a crossing in an area that is in the 'burbs which the crossing has a lot of vehicular traffic. There is a decent amount of train traffic as well with mainline speeds of 70mph. The crossing is in a quit zone with full quadrant gates. It is also on a long sweeping curve, limiting visibility. Now, this crossing is malfunctioning where the gates are down and staying down with no train traffic apparent. The motorists get frustrated and start to raise the gates to let traffic pass. While traffic is creeping through the crossing, a train is approaching at 70mph track speed. It is a quit zone, so the engineer does not sound the horn but rings the bell. The engineer can not yet see the crossing and that the gates are malfunctioning and that traffic is overriding the gates to go through. The train suddenly appears with a few cars stuck in the middle, as the person holding up the gate also just saw the train and is bolting for their safety. The engineer frantically starts blowing the horn and places the brakes into emergency but at 70 mph with only saw 1/4 mile visibility, there is no way for the train to stop in time. The drivers stuck on the crossing panic, not knowing what to do and get hit.

Now, in this wost case scenario, is it still "OK" to take it upon yourself and lift the gates so traffic isn't inconvenienced?

As I am a locomotive engineer for the UP, I am very worried about hitting a car someday. When I go to work to take a train across my 156 mile territory, there is not a trip that goes by that I do not see at least one driver drive around the gates. Many trips, there are at least 6. I have not hit anyone yet, but I have about 27 years left to go, so the odds are not in my favor. I guarantee that if I see a driver drive around the gates and I am able to get a make/model/license plate #, I WILL turn that driver in.

Ok, I'll get off of my soapbox now. The OP did ask what the law was, and the law states that it is illegal to drive around lowered gates or to lift them and drive through. Period. Whether we think the law is fair or not is irrelevant.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/30/11 06:55 by imrl.



Date: 09/30/11 08:05
Re: When Grade Crossings AWD Malfunction?!
Author: dlocher

IRML,

I was wondering the same thing, regardless of the circumstances there could be a grade crossing incident. Now the question becomes, who is responsible (still playing the hypothetical game). The person holding up the gates, the person driving around them, the railroad itself? Whatever the case is, it's just a bad situation for everybody.

David Locher
Fresno, CA
http://www.youtube.com/learnwithgern



Date: 09/30/11 18:26
Re: When Grade Crossings AWD Malfunction?!
Author: PHall

IMRL, you made a statement that lifting that gate was against the law.
Okay, the law of which state? This happened in California. So which section of the California Vehicle Code covers this.
The cop's non-reaction to this makes me think this wasn't much of a concern for him.



Date: 09/30/11 18:56
Re: When Grade Crossings AWD Malfunction?!
Author: imrl

PHall Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> IMRL, you made a statement that lifting that gate
> was against the law.
> Okay, the law of which state? This happened in
> California. So which section of the California
> Vehicle Code covers this.
> The cop's non-reaction to this makes me think this
> wasn't much of a concern for him.


I'll admit, I don't live in the state of California. I live in Kansas. But, being as you insist that nothing is illegal about this and ask for which section of the California Vehicle Code covers this, and I know how to use Google, I provide you with this:

http://dmv.ca.gov/pubs/vctop/d11/vc22451.htm

V C Section 22451 Railroad or Rail Transit Grade Crossings
Railroad or Rail Transit Grade Crossings

22451. (a) The driver of any vehicle or pedestrian approaching a railroad or rail transit grade crossing shall stop not less than 15 feet from the nearest rail and shall not proceed until he or she can do so safely, whenever the following conditions exist:

(1) A clearly visible electric or mechanical signal device or a flagman gives warning of the approach or passage of a train or car.

(2) An approaching train or car is plainly visible or is emitting an audible signal and, by reason of its speed or nearness, is an immediate hazard.

(b) No driver or pedestrian shall proceed through, around, or under any railroad or rail transit crossing gate while the gate is closed.

(c) Whenever a railroad or rail transit crossing is equipped with an automated enforcement system, a notice of a violation of this section is subject to the procedures provided in Section 40518.
Amended Ch. 1216, Stats. 1994. Effective January 1, 1995.
Amended Sec. 5, Ch. 922, Stats. 1995. Effective January 1, 1996.
Amended Sec. 4, Ch. 54, Stats. 1998. Effective January 1, 1999.
Amended Sec. 27, Ch. 1035, Stats. 2000. Effective January 1, 2001.


I point you to the bold line. Is that clear enough for you?



Date: 09/30/11 20:59
Re: When Grade Crossings AWD Malfunction?!
Author: jimB

It may not be safe, but it's not realistic to expect the public will sit at a set of gates for an extended period of time, trapped if there is a center island as required in quiet zones, without lifting the gates to get out. I'm sure the police get this. And yes, the public doesn't understand the risk.

Jim B



Date: 10/01/11 00:38
Re: When Grade Crossings AWD Malfunction?!
Author: SN711

With regard to state vehicle laws, in California (and virtually every other state) you will find a section about stopping for red traffic lights. There is no section that covers what happens when there is a malfunction and the signal does not change. Do you just sit there all day, or you eventually just go, when it is safe to do so? The police and the courts understand that and it goes toward the "spirit of the law". The same would go for malfunctioning railroad crossing gates. So long as no train is coming, there is only so long that you are going to wait, so long as it is safe to do so.

Gary



Date: 10/01/11 10:33
Re: When Grade Crossings AWD Malfunction?!
Author: dlocher

I took pictures of several different people holding the gates open for the cars. They were on their cell phone with their back to the tracks. Once I told one of them a train was coming, he was still waving people through. The train was well over the shunt for that crossing also. He would tell people a train was coming and they still went through. After a while it seems everybody was willing to take just a little more of a chance. Again, there were slow orders so the trains were well below their normal speed.

Here is a map of the grade crossing: http://maps.google.com/maps?saddr=Tulare+St&hl=en&ll=36.73854,-119.781189&spn=0.013791,0.025041&sll=36.74798,-119.774988&sspn=0.013789,0.025041&geocode=FeCXMAIdikHc-A&vpsrc=6&mra=mr&t=m&z=16

As you can see traffic didn't need to be that backed up on Tulare St. They could have gone down to Fresno St. or Ventura St. to get around. All the LLE had to do was stop traffic on R and P to let those already beyond there back out and go around. Then force everybody to turn onto R or P until the gates were fixed.

While I agree with the "Spirit of the Law" concept, once something bad happened, it would be pointed out that laws were broken and then it probably wouldn't matter the gates were malfunctioning. Not to mention the people aiding in the "Spirit of the Law" are usually less than qualified to even be driving a car.

David Locher
Fresno, CA
http://www.youtube.com/learnwithgern



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