Stonington officials say Amtrak fencing hurts emergency access

Stonington — Officials are expressing concerns that 8-foot-tall iron fencing being erected in the borough along the Amtrak rail line will further cut off emergency access and an evacuation route if there is a problem with the viaduct.

Up until last month, residents had been able to walk across the tracks as a way to access the borough without walking over the viaduct. About 25 years ago, Amtrak also closed off the emergency access gate at the end of North Water Street and installed a barrier at the end of Water Street, blocking a previously used emergency access route into the borough.

Over the past month, Amtrak crews have been installing fencing from Stonington Harbor to just west of the Elm Street footbridge. In addition, they have shored up the previous access at the end of North Water Street with the fence and a guardrail.

Pedestrian access and egress now are limited to the viaduct and the deteriorating footbridge.

“Basically it shuts off the borough,” said borough Warden Jeff Callahan, who said no one from Amtrak had contacted him about the work.

Callahan said there continues to be no secondary vehicle access in and out of the borough and the fence now cuts off pedestrian access in the event of an emergency.

While he said he understands the need to ensure safety along the tracks, Callahan asked, “Why the hell would they spend so much money on what looks like a prototype of Trump’s wall on the border with black spikes on top?”

He added that some residents have expressed concern that the fence “seems unnecessarily kind of intimidating.”

He added that before the fence and guardrail were installed, it may have been possible to drive a firetruck over the tracks in an emergency.

Callahan said Amtrak has never responded to concerns expressed by him and U.S. Rep Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, about the condition of the footbridge, where chunks of concrete have fallen off.

“Trying to get an answer out of Amtrak is like trying to talk to the Soviet Union,” he said.

Callahan said he plans to contact Courtney’s office about getting Amtrak to improve emergency access to the borough.

First Selectman Rob Simmons, who has been urging Amtrak for years to upgrade the nearby Elihu Island and Walker’s Dock crossing to improve safety for vehicles and pedestrians, also has expressed concerns about the lack of emergency access over the tracks.

Borough Fire Chief Jeff Hoadley said that since the North Water Street emergency access was blocked about 25 years ago, it has been a concern of his about how to get firetrucks in and out of the borough if the viaduct is blocked or can’t be used. He said he would welcome a secondary access. Decades ago, there had been two crossings of the tracks into the borough.

Amtrak did not respond to questions posed Tuesday about the fencing and emergency access.

j.wojtas@theday.com 

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