Hearing paints dangerous picture of rail crossing

by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – Witnesses characterized the Milwaukee Street railroad crossing as unsafe and dangerous at a public hearing on closing the crossing Wednesday.

City officials and local representatives tried to rebut that picture for Doug Wood, hearing examiner for the state Office of the Commissioner of Railroads, during the proceedings in the fire department training room of City Hall.

“If it was a dangerous intersection, there wouldn’t be 2,400 vehicles a day using it,” city Public Works Director Bill Immich told Wood. “People avoid things that are dangerous.”

City Railroad Services Coordinator Jerry Thompson agreed, noting that it is the busiest of the seven at-grade railroad crossings in the city.

That, he noted, is because Milwaukee Street is the only northsouth corridor that runs completely through the city.

“It’s only had one accident in the last 42 years,” Thompson said of the crossing. “I think that’s a pretty good safety record. I will admit the crossing is unconventional, but it’s safe.”

That was not the opinion of those testifying for the Wisconsin and Southern Railroad and the OCR, however.

“The Milwaukee Street crossing is anything but safe,” OCR investigator Tom Clauder testified. “It’s one of the most dangerous crossings I’ve ever seen. I’m amazed at what I saw there. It’s terrible.”

Clauder cited what he termed the “antiquated … outdated” wigwag warning signals at the crossing as well as the proximity of the tracks to the intersection of Milwaukee and Main streets and Western Avenue, as well as the impeded vision due to nearby buildings.

“I’ve seen cars stop on the tracks (at the crossing) which is a mortal sin in my book,” Clauder stated. “Where we have vehicles stop on the tracks, we have injuries, we have fatalities, we have death.

Clauder also decried pedestrians utilizing the rail crossing as path to schools and work.

“We don’t wait for accidents to happen and then react,” he concluded.

Tom Running of RRX Consulting echoed Clauder’s observations in the report he prepared for the WSOR and presented to the hearing.

“This is a very bad crossing,” he told Wood. “The sight distances are very poor, the approaches are very poor, it is confusing. The signals at the crossing are unacceptable.”

Running said traffic that now uses the crossing could instead follow the route of State 67 (Milwaukee to Mill to Caroline to Elizabeth back to Milwaukee) with only “minimal delays” of an additional minute or less.

“This crossing was not designed with safety in mind,” added Matt Koser, quality assurance manager for the WSOR.

He pointed out that planned traffic patterns on the line will call for trains going over the crossing and back in a push-pull maneuver in order to go from the north-south line to the soon-to-be-completed Plymouth-Sheboygan Falls rail line.

“That’s going to require the conductor to be on the tracks warning traffic and he may not always see the vehicles approaching as he’s trying to stop them,” Koser said.

City Administrator Brian Yerges pointed out that the city has authorized an alternative partial relocation of the Milwaukee Street/ Western Avenue intersection to alleviate safety concerns.

“At this point in time, it is my understanding that the railroad is open to discussions on how to realign the crossing and signals,” Thompson stated.

“We are willing to discuss reconstructing the intersection,” Yerges stated. “We would request a 60 to 90 day delay in the decision to discuss this. We would be willing to work collaboratively with the WSOR and DOT if needed.”

“If the city and the railroad want to have some discussions of other alternatives, this can be presented to (the OCR) at a later date,” Wood responded. “There will be some time for discussion if that’s what the city wants to pursue.”

Readers Comments

In the 1950s and 1960s there
Submitted by wdl@lammers.us on Tue, 2015-03-24 06:49.
In the 1950s and 1960s there were as many as six passenger trains a day going through that crossing plus at least two freight trains. I do not recall that crossing being a problem then. Bill Lammers
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