Amtrak vs Car in KAL, 3 Dead

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Re: Amtrak vs Car in KAL, 3 Dead

Unread postby PatAzo » Sat Mar 02, 2019 8:42 am

Doktor No wrote:Four quadrant gates. Then grandma gets caught between them in her tin lizzie and freezes. I've seen it happen at two quadrant gates...sorta like a squirrel in the road when cars are coming. .



Three Oaks a month ago when 350 hit a box truck. Witness reports in the news said the truck turned right from the library and started across the track, making it south bound. The east gate was in front of the truck so the driver stopped, got out and tried to lift it by hand. That would put the truck across the center line.

The four quadrant gates in Illinois and on the North East Corridor lower two quadrants to stop traffic and use sensors to detect if the crossingis clear before lowering the remaining two. Neither two quadrant or four quadrant will prevent all accidents. MBTA did a study in the 90's video taping incursions on a crossing after the lights and bells had sounded. 13 in a eight week period down to I believe two with a four quadrant gate. Theirs used center barriers to prevent cars from crossing the center line and set the added quadrants 25' back from the track to allow room for a vehicle to exit the crossing.

None of the systems will prevent all accidents but what Amtrak and MDOT will be up against is the phrase "best practise". Did they emply best practices as they raised sppeds. Even if they successfully argue drivers caused the accidents and are at fault for their own injuries, eventually they will hit a heavier vehicle or one will get under the front of the locomotive and cause a derailment. Now they've got a train load of passengers who were not at fault. A personal injury lawyers dream...
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Re: Amtrak vs Car in KAL, 3 Dead

Unread postby justalurker66 » Sat Mar 02, 2019 11:29 am

PatAzo wrote:The four quadrant gates in Illinois and on the North East Corridor lower two quadrants to stop traffic and use sensors to detect if the crossingis clear before lowering the remaining two. Neither two quadrant or four quadrant will prevent all accidents.

The sensors would be helpful. I wonder if it would help to blank out the lights on the back side of the exit arms. Red lights on the exit side of the crossing create a second stop line and I can understand how an inexperienced driver could become confused. I have seen drivers stop in the middle of road intersections because they were confused which light was theirs (as if the red light controlled exiting the intersection). The practice of hanging lights over the exit of road intersections makes the lights easier to see when stopped at a stop line but can confuse where the stop line is. I'd like to see the exit side of a quad gate as dark as possible to avoid such confusion.

A sensor to prevent exit gates from coming down and a sign on the exit gate mast that says "Do NOT stop on tracks." Part of me doesn't want to drop signage to the kindergarten level when drivers should be at least junior high level education but when the message is really important it needs to be said as clearly as possible.

One of my pet peeves is poorly designed crossings.
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Re: Amtrak vs Car in KAL, 3 Dead

Unread postby Doktor No » Sat Mar 02, 2019 12:22 pm

At southbound Wilson Ave CSX crossing in Grandville there are gates and a sign that says: Do Not Stop On Tracks. Wanna know how many times we came around the curve from Jenison eastward to find people sitting on the tracks waiting for the light to change? In fact there may be two signs and also a traffic light in advance of the crossing. Doesn't matter...I would say over 90% of the time they are sitting on the crossing anyway. Had more then one do the climb the curb and use the sidewalk to escape.
You can put up signs in orange, yellow and blue, stop lights AND gates and they will still sit on the crossing. One big reason I got off the road and went into yard service. NO PUBLIC CROSSINGS!
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Re: Amtrak vs Car in KAL, 3 Dead

Unread postby justalurker66 » Sat Mar 02, 2019 2:57 pm

It is difficult when a rail crossing is close to a road crossing ... if there isn't room beyond the tracks for people wanting to turn right on red I consider that poor design. I do see drivers stop on the tracks while in a line of traffic. They have the same mentality when pulling in to road intersections ... pull into the intersection and wait - then clear the intersection when the lights go "all red" before cross traffic gets the green. The combination of believing they can clear the crossing before a train comes and when they expect the next train to come can create a hazard.

There are many intersections adjacent to railroads where the lights are set to "clear the tracks". Even that design has proven hazardous. The traffic light goes "all red" except for traffic approaching from the railroad - the signals at the intersection go green. The signals before the intersection (if present) should be red to prevent other cars from entering the crossing. Which signal is followed when a driver sees a red light at the crossing and a green light at the intersection 50ft away? I know the answer but also accept that situation as confusing. Perhaps the entrance gate in that direction should also be triggered to put a physical barrier at the red light?

I also question what the law requires at such crossings where there are more than one set of traffic lights. I have seen some where there is plenty of room between the railroad and the parallel road. The only way to turn right on red would be to pass the first red light and stop at the second. But the more space available between the lights the more likely it is for people to stop at the first light then advance to the second light even if turning left or going straight. "Stop here on red" is a nice sign, but does it mean "stay here on red" when one wants to turn right on red or there is space for one's vehicle on the other side of the track? "Do not pass this sign when the light is red" is a bit wordy.

(I make an effort not to enter tracks unless there is space beyond the tracks to leave. When there is not enough space between the railroad and intersection light it is obvious that one should not start to cross the tracks. It is less obvious when space is available.)

With every incident I wonder if something could have been designed better. Other than closing all non-grade separated crossings there is no 100% answer - but that does not mean that there are not improvements available.
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Re: Amtrak vs Car in KAL, 3 Dead

Unread postby MQT1223 » Sat Mar 02, 2019 6:57 pm

Doktor No wrote:At southbound Wilson Ave CSX crossing in Grandville there are gates and a sign that says: Do Not Stop On Tracks. Wanna know how many times we came around the curve from Jenison eastward to find people sitting on the tracks waiting for the light to change? In fact there may be two signs and also a traffic light in advance of the crossing. Doesn't matter...I would say over 90% of the time they are sitting on the crossing anyway. Had more then one do the climb the curb and use the sidewalk to escape.
You can put up signs in orange, yellow and blue, stop lights AND gates and they will still sit on the crossing. One big reason I got off the road and went into yard service. NO PUBLIC CROSSINGS!


The addition of a second set of traffic lights on the Cantilever signal for SB traffic at the Wilson ave crossing seems to have helped tremendously with this issue.
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Re: Amtrak vs Car in KAL, 3 Dead

Unread postby justalurker66 » Sat Mar 02, 2019 10:41 pm

Wilson Ave SW in Grandview: https://goo.gl/maps/8fA2HXYr8A92

I can see where people coming out of the shopping center might use that light to stop traffic on Wilson so they can turn South. Hopefully not dumb enough to go on the tracks unless there was room to clear the crossing.

Compare to 11th St at KL Avenue in Kalamazoo: https://goo.gl/maps/yUARMdQ6dbo
The Google Street View car ran the yellow light at the railroad and the red light at KL Avenue.
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Re: Amtrak vs Car in KAL, 3 Dead

Unread postby Saturnalia » Sat Mar 02, 2019 11:17 pm

justalurker66 wrote:The signals before the intersection (if present) should be red to prevent other cars from entering the crossing. Which signal is followed when a driver sees a red light at the crossing and a green light at the intersection 50ft away? I know the answer but also accept that situation as confusing. Perhaps the entrance gate in that direction should also be triggered to put a physical barrier at the red light?

What should happen is the crossing itself will activate under a red light, and the gate will come down to prevent more people from taking the then-green signal ahead at the cross street. In fact, if the cross-street has the green when the crossing is activated, the drivers on the exit of the crossing won't see green until the gates are down.

As always railroad crossing design often boils down to cost. 4-quad gates are hilariously expensive to install and maintain. Somebody has to pay for that, and as noted they have their own problems often requiring sensors and stuff. MDOT and Amtrak decided that 4-quad gates weren't pragmatic from an engineering and maintenance perspective when they worked on the Michigan Line. It works 99.99% of the time until somebody comes along and violates the law anyway. Putting in 4-quads often just advances the cause of making a better idiot.

I'm not convinced that in general the gates send the right message to motorists. People don't blow through red traffic signals like they do railroad lights and gates even though they mean the same thing. I am not yet convinced that simplifying traffic signal practice to simply go for standard traffic lights at railroad crossings isn't a potential solution.

I have never seen anybody at Wilson violate the traffic signal at the crossing, gates up or gates down. Yet just down the way I have seen plenty of people going around at similar crossings where there are no traffic signals similarly mounted.

I'd like to see a few crossings which don't otherwise have a reason to have a traffic light get one and see if it changes driver behavior. Let the traffic signal show green unless/until the crossing is activated, then have it cycle to yellow and then red. I bet fewer people will violate the gates. I'm actually willing to bet that even at ungated crossings, fewer people would violate the traffic light than would go around the gates at a similar crossing without traffic signals.

The problem with this idea are crossing signal malfunctions. To that I say there needs to be more remote monitoring of grade crossings generally for abnormal behavior. It wouldn't take much these days to have each crossing send out a report over the internet of when it is activated. Anything over a couple minutes should be flagged. Better yet, integrate it with the dispatcher's data stream to determine if it should be on at all. No authorized trains in the area? Well then it is probably a malfunction. So I really hope railroad crossings join the "internet of things".
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Re: Amtrak vs Car in KAL, 3 Dead

Unread postby Super Chief » Sun Mar 03, 2019 6:57 am

I've watched the NS gates at Hively in Elkhart, my neighbor is the signal maintainer for that area. Those gates are quad but they are like the drawbridge gates in Florida. The first set on the approach traffic side comes down then the 2nd set on the oposite side come down to let traffic clear the crossing. Seems to work vs all coming down at once. Probably helps semis the most. Not as many arms to replace. Theres a like 10 second delay between the 2 downward and upward movements to clear the crossing. It's the only one I've seen with that movement first hand.
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Re: Amtrak vs Car in KAL, 3 Dead

Unread postby DaveO » Sun Mar 03, 2019 10:03 am

Remember the presence of a traffic signal interlocked to the crossing makes it exempt under Michigan law.
Also by interlocking railroad signals and traffic signals, you now have 2 parties responsible for the correct operation at those locations.
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Re: Amtrak vs Car in KAL, 3 Dead

Unread postby Standard Railfan » Sun Mar 03, 2019 2:21 pm

DaveO wrote:Remember the presence of a traffic signal interlocked to the crossing makes it exempt under Michigan law.
Also by interlocking railroad signals and traffic signals, you now have 2 parties responsible for the correct operation at those locations.


The traffic signals interlocked with the crossing of US 127 and the line between Ashley and Middleton seems to have avoided any “issues” from such an arrangement. Although MDOT owns both the track and the highway, I believe GLC is responsible for maintain the crossing protection.

Does anyone know of other locations where a similar arrangement exists?
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Re: Amtrak vs Car in KAL, 3 Dead

Unread postby Buster Manning » Sun Mar 03, 2019 3:05 pm

Super Chief wrote: Theres a like 10 second delay between the 2 downward and upward movements to clear the crossing. It's the only one I've seen with that movement first hand.


On the CN crossings in Battle Creek that have quad gates are set up this way too...
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Re: Amtrak vs Car in KAL, 3 Dead

Unread postby justalurker66 » Sun Mar 03, 2019 3:54 pm

DaveO wrote:Remember the presence of a traffic signal interlocked to the crossing makes it exempt under Michigan law.

Does it make the crossing exempt in both directions? Both Wilson (Grandview) and 11th St (Oshtemo) have traffic lights at the train crossing when traveling toward the interlocked intersection. Both have enough room beyond the railroad crossing for some traffic to queue at the road intersection. When the light is green for cross traffic at the road intersection both locations would allow vehicles to drive toward the tracks - where no traffic signal would be present for vehicles approaching from the road intersection.

KL Ave has signs that light when a train is approaching/present, which would warn a driver before they made the turn. Chicago Drive does not have have warning signs at Wilson Ave. Would 11th St at KL Ave be exempt and Wilson Ave north of Chicago Drive not be exempt?
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Re: Amtrak vs Car in KAL, 3 Dead

Unread postby Saturnalia » Sun Mar 03, 2019 3:57 pm

justalurker66 wrote:
DaveO wrote:Remember the presence of a traffic signal interlocked to the crossing makes it exempt under Michigan law.

Does it make the crossing exempt in both directions?

No light, no exemption. Vehicles required to stop still do so northbound on Wilson.

I remember when they put the lights up heading south - some of the move's biggest fans were the Grandville Public Schools bus drivers who no longer had to make the stop heading south. They knew they weren't gonna get it but they woulda cheered a NB signal, too.
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Re: Amtrak vs Car in KAL, 3 Dead

Unread postby justalurker66 » Sun Mar 03, 2019 4:07 pm

Buster Manning wrote:
Super Chief wrote: Theres a like 10 second delay between the 2 downward and upward movements to clear the crossing. It's the only one I've seen with that movement first hand.

On the CN crossings in Battle Creek that have quad gates are set up this way too...

I can't remember a quad where the exit gates come down at the same time as the entrance gates. One probably exists somewhere ...

Hively in Elkhart raises the exit gates first. I have seen places where all four gates raise at the same time. I suspect the exit gates are raised first so they can stay up until the entrance gates are lowered again if there is another train approaching. Lusher in Elkhart has similar programming. A video can be viewed below.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iyu-JfZTwi8
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Re: Amtrak vs Car in KAL, 3 Dead

Unread postby Steve B » Sun Mar 03, 2019 4:08 pm

Standard Railfan, referring to the US 127 crossing wrote, "Although MDOT owns both the track and the highway..."

As far as I know the Middleton Branch is owned outright by GLC, as TSBY bought it from GTW in the '80s.
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Re: Amtrak vs Car in KAL, 3 Dead

Unread postby DaveO » Sun Mar 03, 2019 4:13 pm

Standard Railfan wrote:
DaveO wrote:Remember the presence of a traffic signal interlocked to the crossing makes it exempt under Michigan law.
Also by interlocking railroad signals and traffic signals, you now have 2 parties responsible for the correct operation at those locations.


The traffic signals interlocked with the crossing of US 127 and the line between Ashley and Middleton seems to have avoided any “issues” from such an arrangement. Although MDOT owns both the track and the highway, I believe GLC is responsible for maintain the crossing protection.

Does anyone know of other locations where a similar arrangement exists?


IMHO, the best interlocked road/rail crossing with traffic signals in Michigan is in Auburn Hills.
This crossing design shows somebody actually had a clue about what crossing the intersection on a diagonal meant and what was needed.
https://goo.gl/maps/P7h38i9bXjL2
There is also a diagonal crossing on the Southgate/Taylor border at Allen and Northline roads.
There are other interlocked road/rail crossings around Michigan.
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Re: Amtrak vs Car in KAL, 3 Dead

Unread postby justalurker66 » Sun Mar 03, 2019 4:45 pm

DaveO wrote:IMHO, the best interlocked road/rail crossing with traffic signals in Michigan is in Auburn Hills.
This crossing design shows somebody actually had a clue about what crossing the intersection on a diagonal meant and what was needed.
https://goo.gl/maps/P7h38i9bXjL2

The only thing missing is gates (which may require the addition of a median separated right turn lane for southbound traffic).
But it does not appear that the line is getting heavy use.

There is also a diagonal crossing on the Southgate/Taylor border at Allen and Northline roads.

That one has gates --- including preventing right turns that would not cross the tracks.
https://goo.gl/maps/21uL61uJvto
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Re: Amtrak vs Car in KAL, 3 Dead

Unread postby Standard Railfan » Sun Mar 03, 2019 7:35 pm

Steve B wrote:Standard Railfan, referring to the US 127 crossing wrote, "Although MDOT owns both the track and the highway..."

As far as I know the Middleton Branch is owned outright by GLC, as TSBY bought it from GTW in the '80s.


Thank you the correction. I assumed the line had become part of the AA prior to the State taking over.
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