Saturday, January 31, 2015

Don't trust SunRail railroad crossings

We don’t know about you, but we don’t trust SunRail crossing gates.

Friday morning shortly after 9 we were driving to an appointment in downtown Orlando. Driving east on Central Boulevard we saw the lights flashing and the crossing gates lower at the tracks next to the big fire station. There was an SUV in front of us at the crossing. The gates were down for more than 30 seconds, but from our vantage point we couldn’t see a train. A female passenger got out of the SUV, and much to our horror she walked around the gate and crossed the tracks. Still no sign of a train.

After the woman crossed the tracks, the gates went up. Mind you we still couldn’t see a train. But the SUV in front of us (the one the woman got out of) didn’t budge. And then a moment later we could see the locomotive of a northbound SunRail train slowly rolling toward the Central Boulevard crossing. But get this: the crossing gate was still up. As the train reached the crossing the gate came down and the warning bells started ringing.


What if we were coming down Central at a good clip and the gates didn’t come down until the train was actually crossing the street?

Now we understand why we’ve been seeing angry Tweets from motorists complaining that they almost got killed by a SunRail train. We thought those motorists were just SunRail haters, or reckless drivers. But no, we’re now convinced that there is something wrong with the SunRail crossing-gate system, and this problem isn’t isolated or new. We’ve been seeing Tweets about the crossing gates for months.

Think about it riders, how many times have you been on a SunRail train that had to stop so the conductor could climb down to the ground and use a red flag to stop traffic for the train to cross a street? (Shades of “Petticoat Junction”, Google it millennials) This past week we rode SunRail in the evening on Wednesday and Thursday and both nights the train had to stop for the conductor to flag traffic and Holden and Michigan Street in south Orlando. We’ve also seen crews working on crossing signals at several locations.

Thank goodness there have only been a handful of accidents with SunRail trains. To our knowledge, the crossing gates were not at fault in any of those incidents. But considering what we – and other riders and motorists – have seen, something is not working right in the crossing-gate system. How long before a malfunctioning crossing gate gets somebody killed?

No one should feel as though they’re rolling the dice when they cross the railroad tracks. Local government officials should be asking SunRail some tough questions.

We sent an email on this issue to SunRail on Friday. They told us they’re looking into it and will get back to us next week. Stay tuned.

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