Amtrak train vs. car in Medford: Train wins, car, Lowell Line commuters lose

Crushed car in Medford. Photo by Alex Formanek.Crushed car in Medford. Photo by Alex Formanek.

Extensive delays on the Lowell Line this morning after an Amtrak train smashed into a car at High Street in West Medford. MBTA Transit Police report:

Minor injury to driver, substantial car damage.

As of 9 a.m., the Lowell Line alerts page had seven alerts - all showing cancellations or extensive delays.


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How did this happen?

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Medford was forced to install barrers on either side of the road so you couldn't drive around the closed gate and onto the tracks. The MBTA pays someone to sit in a little both all day long and watch the tracks. (But not sell tickets or be helpful in the slightest.) So with all this how did someone still manage to be so stupid as to get their car on the tracks with a train approaching?

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This IS....

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...Massachusetts.

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And the driver is from New Hampshire

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@AndreaWBZ: #MBTA: 69 year old NH man will be cited for allegedly maneuvering his vehicle around the train crossing gate. #medford #amtrak

Live free or die indeed.

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Driver was from Medford before move to NH

His bad luck was the train was a NorEaster that doesn't slow or stop like a commuter rail train.

Who forced Medford to put up the reflective median bollards to discourage driving around gates? Its more often the case that cities and towns apply for federal grant money to spend on all kinds of stuff and they were a winner, unlike my Powerball ticket. Like most added expense spent on new road safety features, no statistical benefits are seen.

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You mean the Downeaster...

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Nontheless, it does not stop there, but it doesn't fly through at top speed either. When I've seen it there, it's usually going between 20 and 35 MPH. Still not slow enough to stop short, but fast enough make a mess when people decide they're too good to wait for the crossing gates. He's lucky he wasn't killed.

Who forced Medford to put up the reflective median bollards to discourage driving around gates? Its more often the case that cities and towns apply for federal grant money to spend on all kinds of stuff and they were a winner, unlike my Powerball ticket. Like most added expense spent on new road safety features, no statistical benefits are seen.

Do you have evidence that it doesn't discourage drivers from driving around the gates or that Medford was "forced" to put them up (more likely, it was the MBTA or Amtrak that upgraded the crossing.)? This crossing was upgraded in the early 2000s and this is the only instance I can think of this happening since that happened -behavior of drivers is just one factor of railroad crossing safety, design is another. Considering what this crossing used to look like, I'd say the improvements have probably helped quite a bit.

Side note: My father grew up a few blocks away from here and when he was a kid, the crossing attendant used to let him crank the gates down (they were manually operated in the 1950s). He also told me that when he was about ten, his father (who was a funeral director) brought him along to collect the body of a young man, a few years older than he was, who walked across the tracks behind a local that was stopped at West Medford Station and right into the path of an express from Montreal. It traumatized him enough to take all railroad crossings very seriously to this day.

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Federal Agency Wanted Those Plastic Things

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The city had been given a reprieve by the Federal government on making the crossings safer (Canal St., too.) for a while (a few years?). When the reprieve expired, the city evidently forgot about it, and it was ordered that every train going through those crossings blow it's horn. Obviously this did not go over well with people who live nearby. In order to stop the horn blowing, the city was forced to install those plastic barrier things to make it harder for cars to go around the gates. Nothing's perfect I guess.

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And now that there's been a

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"went around the gates" accident since the plastic things were put in, Medford will likely lose its whistle ban (Yay!).

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Also, the Federal Government

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didn't pay for the plastic barriers - the taxpayers of Medford did.

And they say vanity doesn't have a price.

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Actually, it was probably the state taxpayers

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that paid most, if not all of the cost, being that High Street is MA Route 60 there. Even if it is not under Mass Highway's jurisdiction at that spot (I have no idea), a majority to the full cost of construction and maintenance of local roads is provided by the state under Chapter 90.

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Town of Medford requested the whistle ban

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at an existing crossing that no other improvements were being made to. Per FRA regulations, the local community (Town of Medford) picks up the full cost.

And improvements to an existing crossing just to support a community's case for a whistle ban are not considered routine construction or maintenance activities. As such, said improvements are not eligible for Chapter 90 funds.

Now, if the MBTA/MBCR were upgrading the crossing equipment as part of a larger project, the Town probably could have gotten the bollards included in that work.

Note that Wakefield (where I live) put in similar median dividers at three crossings last year to maintain their whistle ban. The Town tried to argue the work was eligible for State reimbursement under Chapter 90 - they lost.

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Data?

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and you have the data to back that up, Mr. K?

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Why Medford Has all these Gates

It isn't just the Downeaster - there are freights that run during the night.

That and Medford residents and the mayor throwing pissy little infantile fits anytime the MUST BLOW HORN regulations are actually enforced.

The historical reason: one morning, as I looked on in horror with many other waiting riders, a GARBAGE TRUCK took the then right turn lane onto the track as the gates came down ...

Luckily, the guy in the shack radioed the train before that garbage truck was punted into the Dunks.

Medford drivers are some of the most foolish I have encountered when it comes to trains, while being the most bitchy about train horns. They will sit there LAYING ON THE HORN if you are amongst the few who was properly trained to NOT block the tracks if you can't clear them. That is why all the stops are in place - there are NO excuses for the stupidity now.

As for "no benefits seen", well, BULLSHIT. Before the changes, there were "near misses" weekly and accidents nearly every month or two. That has CHANGED in the last few years, and this is now a rare happenstance of stupidity.

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Horn blowing

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The FRA has a particular fetish for horn blowing which goes well beyond what is really necessary. This kind of nuisance does not help sell rail service to towns (imagine if the Green Line had to blow a horn at every crossing! Luckily it's out of the scope of the FRA). Other parts of the world get by without all the noise. But maybe we are just exceptionally stupid in this country.

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Your citation is moot.

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Light rail trains aren't regulated by the FRA, nor are they usually required to sound horns at crossings. There's a quite a difference between a 10 ton streetcar and a 500 ton passenger train.

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Did you read the article?

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Hudson-Bergen Light Rail does blow the horn because of the FRA's wacky regulations. It's light rail on tracks that are FRA regulated and temporally separated from freight.

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Most of it

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But I missed the end (I missed that it was a multi-paged article), but it still makes no mention of adherence FRA regulations or horn blowing requirements, besides the worries expressed by opponents at the beginning of the article. I'm sure it is safe to assume, since the end of the article does mention shared use of the freight tracks, but it still doesn't detail FRA regulations as they would apply here.

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So Hudson-Bergen Light Rail vehicles

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blow their horns. Yet, somehow, life goes on as normal for all the people living along the line despite the horn blowing.

And the regulations are hardly "wacky". What's wacky here is the premise that people are so vain and self-absorbed that they can't tolerate hearing a train horn a few times a day.

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"Life goes on"

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Except that the horn blowing at frequent, rapid transit intervals is a major annoyance for people living along the HBLR route. And it doesn't make any sense for a Light Rail vehicle to be doing it.

It's the FRA applying a rule which maybe makes sense in one case, to another case where it doesn't make any sense at all. Because they are stuck in the 19th century.

update: yet another example was posted last night. SMART is using lightweight DMUs.

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Funny how trains and communities co-existed

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for well over 150 years before the noise suddenly became a "major annoyance". In other words, it's the selfish and childish "waahh waahhh waahhh - we are SO incovenicenced by hearing a train horn every so often. How on earth can we continue to go on with our lives" attitude.

Trains blow horns, church bells ring, etc. - all facts of life that won't kill or injure anyone - and have been the norm in society for over 150 years. Sorry, but your minor inconvenience by having to hear a train every so often doesn't (and shouldn't) trump society's need to maintain public safety.

Noise bans are just another example of the "me generation" (as in everything for me and the heck with everyone else) at work in society. And they're also another reason why society is slowly decaying.

And IMO, allowing trains to blow horns not only promotes safety, but is far more cost effective (especially when cities and towns are always crying poverty) than spending upwards of $600K per crossing to put in the medians and bollards.

For the record, there was a brief period after the current FRA rules went into effect that train horns had to be sounded within Wakefield (apparently the original whistle ban between the B&M and the Town was never actually put in writing). The Town Selectmen weren't thrilled, but me and my neighbors (we live about 1/4 mile from the tracks), as well as other I know in Wakefield, had no issues with the horns blowing.

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Ahem

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There's a large difference between a train horn every hour or so, and a train horn every 5-10 minutes.

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Regarding the overall impact on people's lives

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I beg to differ.

But, by all means, let's allow peoples selfish convenience and vanity, as opposed to safety, dicatate public policy. Just as long as those same people don't then complain about a safety problem when pedestrians are routinely getting struck by those same trains.

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Does the Green Line have that problem?

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Because HBLR is also light rail, and even runs in the street (doesn't have to blow the horn then).

Why exactly are you and the FRA fixated on making light rail vehicles blow horns every 5-10 minutes?

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The fetish here is not with the FRA, but

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with the people who feel so self-important that they pressure the railroad companies and the FRA into allowing horn bans in the first place. But I guess they feel vanity is more important than public safety.

Long before the FRA, trains blew horns at grade crossings all the time. And I don't recall anybody dying, going deaf, or being injured as a result.

Sorry, but if you buy a property in the vicinity of an active railroad line, you shouldn't be surprised that trains actually go by.

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West Medford crossing

a GARBAGE TRUCK took the then right turn lane onto the track as the gates came down ...

The right turn from Playstead Road? One of the improvements that Medford made here was to remove that separate little right-turn lane with its own little gate.

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The right turn from Playstead

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The right turn from Playstead Road?

No, I don't think so. She mentions "Dunks", so I'm assuming coming from Harvard Ave. I don't remember a right-turn lane there though. That doesn't guarantee it wasn't there though.

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One point.

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The "watchman" is an MBCR employee, but his salary is paid for by the Town of Medford.

When the Boston and Maine started converting their crossings from manual gates to automatic signals enmasse in the late 1960s and 1970s, several towns resisted the change. The railroad's response was "OK, we'll keep the watchman, but you pay the salary."

AFAIK, Medford and Wakefield (Greenwood Station) are the only locations left on the MBCR system that still employ watchmen to oversee crossings with automatic signals and gates.

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Another swing and a miss by Darwin

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Too bad it didn't kill the guy. These people are DANGEROUS and this guy will probably end up killing or injuring an innocent person by way of his reckless stupidity at some point in the future. Better luck next time ahole

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I live across the street

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I have lived here for almost four years, and I literally look out my bedroom window at the train station across the street. I was fully aware when I moved here that there was a train crossing, but I also knew there was a whistle ban. I feel like "whistle" is no longer the correct term for the noise that comes out of those trains. I peacefully deal with the screeching brakes and the engines that are clearly not well maintained, but when the "whistles" started, there was no peace or quiet. There is at least two trains an hour and more during rush hours. I am all for safety, but the I'd hazard a guess that the guy who went around the gates wouldn't have been stopped by the horn anyway. Why are poeple so STUPID about trains? They're big, and REALLY hard to stop.

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