No upgrade at deadly rail crossing

By By Sheila Blackmon/The Meridian Star
April 3, 2001
HICKORY Town officials here say a recent reassessment of a deadly downtown railroad crossing will not lead to a crossing upgrade.
Hickory Mayor Wayne Griffith said he talked to Steven Edwards, Mississippi Department of Transportation's rails engineer, about reassessing the Smede Street crossing the site of three fatalities since November 1999.
Trinette Wilson and Kirk Buntyn were killed in late 1999 after their cars collided with Kansas City Southern freight trains. Sidney Wagner died in February when his tractor and a Kansas City Southern freight train collided.
Marlin Collier, director of intermodal planning for MDOT, said Federal Railroad Administration officials developed a mathematical formula for prioritizing crossing upgrades.
He said Mississippi has 2,800 crossings and 600 have lights or lights and gates. MDOT can fund about 15 crossing upgrades each year, so they pick the highest priority projects, he said.
Collier said MDOT officials agreed to take new traffic counts at the Smede Street crossing to see if it raised the crossing's priority. He said he, too, got a response from Edwards.
He said union contracts say railroad employees must do the work so even if town officials agreed to fund the project, railroad officials might not agree to upgrade the Smede Street crossing.
He said railroad officials might fear maintenance on the upgraded Smede Street crossing would divert their employees' attention from crossings higher on the priority list. He said the railroad company might not have enough employees to do an extra upgrade above those on the top of MDOT's list.
Town officials erected new signs on the approaches to the crossing in late February. They painted a warning on the pavement on one approach and have received reflectors they ordered to construct speed bumps, but Griffith said rain has delayed the project. As soon as the weather permits, the project will resume, he said.
Sheila Blackmon is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail her at sblackmon@themeridianstar.com.

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