OUR OPINION: Continue questioning about rail crossings

Tupelo’s City Council moved cautiously ahead Tuesday night with its inquiries about costs and benefits in Mayor Jack Reed Jr.’s proposal to create train-horn quiet zones at most crossings on the BNSF’s and Kansas City Southern’s routes through town.

The railroad-estimated figure of $250,000 per crossing for crossing arms, lights and bells, plus curb work, is not inexpensive, but no discussion of crossing gates has ever suggested otherwise.

The broader debate is about the value of investment in crossing gates for the quality of life near the rail corridor, where horns are required by law if the federally defined crossing gates aren’t in place.

It doesn’t require lengthy residency in Tupelo to know that the whole range of train sounds – horns, roaring big diesel engines and the familiar clackity-clack rhythm of coupled cars, is not confined. People living at significant distance from the tracks inside the city limits and beyond know that the train noise is around-the-clock, regardless of traffic density at crossings.

City Council members indicated Tuesday a vote about how to proceed, if at all, would be taken in June before the current term ends in early July.

Reed, Community Development Foundation officer Jon Milstead and Sharpie Smith, an engineer and principal in the firm Smith Seckman Reid, met with the council. Smith told council members he couldn’t give an estimate on the total cost of the project, but he said he does not disagree with $250,000 as the cited cost per train crossing at intersections without flashing lights or any other warnings of approaching trains.

Safety as well as quiet remains an issue at railroad crossings nationwide. In the first nine months of 2012, the U.S. recorded 9,936 collisions at crossings with 1,265 fatalities. Almost 4,000 of the collisions happened because a vehicle driver did not stop.

The project would lead to safety arms and flashing lights at each railroad crossing included in the designation, along with upgrading curbs to prevent vehicles from easily bypassing the safeguards, the Daily Journal reported on Wednesday.

The estimated cost would range from $4- to $5 million to complete the project.

The council and Mayor Reed should seek funding sources to offset at least a major portion of the cost to taxpayers. Most of the time taxpayers have been expected to foot costs for crossing safety upgrades.

“Bond is really not a four-letter word to me,” Reed said. “I think you have to look at it as a lifetime Tupelo investment.”

NEMS Daily Journal

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