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Temporary barriers installed at railroad crossing

LONGMEADOW – The railroad crossing at Tina Lane/Birnie Road where Longmeadow Department of Public Works employee Warren Cowles lost his life on March 14 will remain closed, per order of the Select Board.

Town Manager Stephen Crane referenced a proposal made by the town’s fire chief about the installation of signs and jersey barriers, along with a metal gate that would allow access in an emergency situation. Crane said the sawhorses currently being used at the site are not an effective barrier.

“They’ve been moved quite a bit recently, so we are concerned and want to get this moving,” he said.

While the Select Board accepted the recommendation, and voted 5-0 in favor of it, selectmen had questions about the status of a long-term solution. Cowles was killed when the plow truck he was operating during a snowstorm was struck by an Amtrak train. There was no stop sign or signal at this crossing. Its potential danger has been a topic of discussion in the past, most recently in the 1990s, when another person was killed in this same location. There have been 36 train-related deaths in Massachusetts since 1975. Five of them have occurred in Longmeadow at this crossing.

Crane stated he has been in regular contact with representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), and feels like the town is “gaining ground” in securing a final resolution. It is possible a permanent signal could be installed using Section 130, a rail crossing improvement program funded federally and administered by MassDOT. Preliminary estimates show the cost to install these security measures could top $750,000.

“This is new territory for them (MassDOT),” said Crane. “So they are trying to do some policy-making on their end. They want to make sure when they make a decision like this, it’s justifiable and repeatable. I was a little frustrated because we were expecting (a decision), but I understand their position. They want to do things right, just like we would do.”

Select Board Chairman Thomas Lachiusa asked if representatives from Amtrak and Mass DOT would present their plans to the board, and the townspeople, once a decision has been made about how to proceed. Crane said yes, he believes someone should come to a Select Board meeting and describe, in detail, how the MassDOT plans to address issues related to the crossing.

“But it’s going to be awhile before that’s all nailed down,” said Crane. “But once it’s all agreed-upon, they should come here and tell us – and the community – what they are going to do.”

In the meantime, Crane said on Tuesday that the temporary barriers approved by the Select Board have been installed. He said the cost associated with these barriers was “more than a few hundred dollars in materials.”

– Article by Sarah Leete Tsitso