Rail crossing signals are shared decision

By Errol Castens/Daily Journal Oxford Bureau

NEW ALBANY – No answer is definite yet, but officials speculate one of the two collisions at railroad crossings in Union County last week might have been prevented by an upgraded crossing.
Benjamin Paiste, 18, apparently drove into the path of a westbound BNSF train Tuesday morning in Myrtle. The crossing on Graham Avenue had bells and multi-directional flashing lights but no cross-arms.
“I don’t know if the sun was in his eyes and he didn’t see the signal,” said Union County Sheriff Jimmy Edwards.
MDOT traffic engineer Jim Willis said analysis of grade crossings and their warning needs involves representatives from railroads, local governments, MDOT and the Federal Highway Administration.
“Ultimately, the Mississippi Transportation Commission decides,” he said.
Factors in the decision include daily train count, daily vehicle count, the presence of hazardous materials on the route and whether any loaded school buses use the crossing, Willis said, along with sight distances, road speed limit and train speed.
Nearly half the 4,293 rail crossings in Mississippi are private, and most of them have passive, signs-only warning devices.
Of the state’s more than 2,200 public crossings, nearly 1,300 are passive, with the rest divided roughly evenly between those with flashers and bells and those that also have cross-arms.
Joe Faust of BNSF Railroad said area governments decide what signals are needed and how to fund them.
“Once it is determined, we install it and maintain it,” he said.
Myrtle Mayor Joe Rials said railroad signal upgrades in the Union County town of 490 people would require outside funding.
A second train/vehicle collision west of New Albany on Thursday night did not involve any signal deficiency.
Edwards said Cooley Transport driver Kelcey Barr was trying to drop off a trailer at the Newport Upholstery plant on State Highway 178 around 10 p.m.
“While they were waiting on someone to come unlock the gate, the train came,” Edwards said. “He couldn’t pull forward far enough to get off the tracks, and the train hit the rear section.” No one was injured in the incident.
errol.castens@journalinc.com