Earlier this week a Longmeadow DPW employee tragically lost his life at the Birnie Road rail crossing when the snow plow he was operating was hit by an Amtrak train that was clearing snow from the rail line.
This accident has been extensively covered by the media and is under investigation by local, state and federal authorities so this posting will not delve into the details of the accident.
Instead, this posting will at look at the topic of highway-rail grade crossing safety in general in our region, with a focus on the crossing at Birnie Rd in Longmeadow.
Highway-rail crossings in the Pioneer Valley
There are a total of 119 public highway-rail crossings in the three counties that make up the Pioneer Valley. Each crossing is marked with passive signage. Most crossings are also protected by active warning devices such as bells, red flashing lights, and gates.
In summary, the report shows that for the five-year period (January 1, 2011, – December 31, 2015) there were a total of five (5) reported accidents at highway-rail crossing in the Pioneer Valley — which thankfully is a very low number.
Three of the accidents occurring at a single location — the grade crossing that takes Bridge Street in West Springfield over the CSX rail line.
For reasons that we cannot explain, the Birnie Road crossing does not appear on the FRA’s list of active highway-rail crossings. Updated 3/28/2017: The Birnie Road crossing reverted to “open” status when Amtrak submitted a revised DOT Crossing Inventory form to the FRA on March 24, 2017.
The Birnie Road railroad crossing
This is an aerial view of the crossing courtesy of Google Maps.
And this is a Google Street View image of the crossing.
Birnie Road in Longmeadow crosses the Amtrak Springfield Line. Our understanding is that passenger trains are authorized to operate on the two tracks at this location at speeds up to 70 80 m.p.h.
The Amtrak Springfield Line is used by Amtrak trains that operate between Springfield and New Haven. The line is also used by a number of freight trains each day. In early 2018 this line will see additional rail traffic when the Hartford Line service launches, with the addition of 12 daily round-trip Hartford Line trains between New Haven and Springfield.
MassLive reported this week that there have been a total of five (5) fatalities at the Birnie Road crossing since 1975.
On Thursday, March 16th WWLP News22 reported that the Town of Longmeadow had set up barriers across the road at the Birnie Road crossing.
Once the investigation is complete, the proper authorities — which we understand are the Town of Longmeadow, Amtrak, and the Department of Public Utilities — must decide what steps need to be taken to reduce the risk of future accidents at this dangerous rail crossing.
In our view, there are only two options — either upgrade the crossing at Birnie Road with active warning devices or close it permanently.
Here’s an activity for rail advocates looking for something new to do while it continues to snow outside.
As part of the process to update its five-year Capital Investment Plan, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is seeking input from the public until the end of this week.
If you have comments or suggestions on current or future state transportation projects, programs, priorities, and/or concerns, now is the time to submit your ideas and thoughts to MassDOT as part of this process.
In particular, we would encourage you to submit your comments in support of the following rail priorities for our region:
1. Additional passenger rail service north of Springfield
– ideally, the extension of a few Hartford Line trains past Springfield to Greenfield
2. Expanded passenger rail service between Springfield and Boston
– e.g., an extension of the planned Hartford Line service from Springfield to Boston
3. A second high-level platform at Springfield Union Station
– only one high-level platform is currently funded
4. and any other ideas and suggestions that you wish MassDOT to consider, including those related to state highways, the MBTA and the Regional Transit Agencies (i.e. PVTA and the FRTA.)
Your ideas and comments may be submitted one of two ways:
On Monday, March 6th, Congressman Richard E. Neal hosted a “Media Day” event at Union Station to celebrate the rebirth of Union Station in Springfield. During the event, it was announced that Union Station will reopen to the public on Monday, June 26th, 2017.
At that time Amtrak’s passenger waiting room and ticket offices will move into the newly renovated station. It is expected that Peter Pan Bus Lines, Greyhound, and the bus operations of the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority will then follow as quickly as practical.
The images that follow highlight today’s media event and the station as it looks today — as final preparations for the re-opening are put in motion.
Images from Today’s Event
Images from Inside the Station
A highlight of the new station is the wonderful set of large graphic displays (murals) that were developed by Design & Advertising Associates LLC of Springfield and the Museum of Springfield History.
At track-level, you will unfortunately not find much that is new or improved at the moment. The current MassDOT Capital Improvement Plan includes funding for the construction of one high-level platform at the station. The new platform will replace the existing low level “Platform C”, which is shown in the image below.
We are hopeful that the planned high-level platform will be completed before the new Hartford Line service starts in early 2018.
Behind a door in the passageway under the tracks is the framing of the new elevator shaft and a set of original stairs that once led to Platform C — clearly a work in progress.
In the meantime — until the new high-level platform is built — train passengers will continue to access the boarding platforms using the existing stairway and elevator at the south end of the passageway.