Council of Governments supports Stonington effort to improve rail crossing safety

Stonington — The Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments voted unanimously Tuesday to support the town’s efforts to seek grants for a $1.7 million upgrade of two rail crossings that First Selectman Rob Simmons has said have been unsafe for the past 20 years.

The COG agreed to write letters of support for application to upgrade the Elihu Island and Walker’s Dock crossings. Simmons said that U.S Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Second District, has also agreed to write letters of support.

The town is currently seeking a $1.7 million grant from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program. Simmons said the money would not only pay for the installation of quad gates and sensors in the crossing that would warn an oncoming train that there is a vehicle on the tracks but also pay to upgrade the roads that lead to the crossings. The crossings provide access to the popular Walker’s Dock marina and a home on Elihu Island.

The towns’ application for the grant points out the improvements were excluded from the $2.3 billion of work to install high speed rail in the Northeast Corridor 20 years ago.

“For the past two decades, users of the two crossings have been exposed to significant additional risks as train travel speeds have increased, yet the necessary safety improvements were not made, likely because of technical oversight,” states the application.

The improvements would not only make it difficult for a vehicle to get into the crossing but warn the oncoming train of a vehicle giving it time to stop to avoid a collision.

The 11 other so called “at-grade crossings” in the state, four of which are in Stonington, have the improved safety measures.

The improvements would also eliminate the need for trains to sound their horns at both crossings, a warning that Simmons has said is useless because it only gives cars on the track a few seconds warning.

During the recent discussion of a controversial bypass through the region, Simmons criticized the Federal Rail Administration and Amtrak for not making what he called long overdue safety improvements. Simmons has also said the two agencies failure to improve safety at the two crossings exposes them to liability as the town is on the record for years saying the crossings pose a threat.

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