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Article published May 6, 2013

Adding lights or gate unlikely at $1M price

Paula Grubbs
Cranberry Eagle

HARRISBURG — Despite the fatal accident April 26 on the railroad track at Maple Avenue in Evans City, it does not appear that lights and a crossing gate will be added there.

Jennifer Kocher, a state Public Utilities Commission spokesman, on Tuesday explained that for a safety signal to be installed at a crossing, the railroad, the municipality where it is located or the state Department of Transportation must request the change from the PUC. She said the PUC also can initiate changes at a crossing.
Kocher said in determining the apparatus or sign to be installed at a crossing, PUC officials look at prior accidents, whether the commission has received complaints about close call accidents at the crossing and the number of vehicles that cross the tracks in a given amount of time.
“At (the Maple Avenue crossing), there have been no other accidents and no complaints,” Kocher said.
“And two trains a day, on average, go through Evans City.”
She said costs for installing flashing red lights and a gate at the Maple Avenue crossing would be $1 million to $1.5 million.
Costs for safety measures are paid in part or wholly by the entity requesting the changes, Kocher said.
Kim Armstrong, president of Evans City Borough Council, said she doubts council will ask for lights and a gate at Maple Avenue because of the crash, which resulted in the death of Callery resident Claudette Miller, 91, and injuries to 10 other passengers of a BART bus that was hit by a 29-car train.
Armstrong pointed out that neither Callery nor Mars train crossings, which are much more heavily used by trains, have gates to stop vehicle traffic.
Finding $1 million or more to install additional safety apparatus at the small Maple Avenue crossing would be extremely hard for the borough, which struggles with balancing its budget each year.
“At this time, I can’t see us doing that,” Armstrong said.
Evans City Police Chief Joe McCombs said Tuesday that while the track has been open for several days, the investigation into the cause of the crash is ongoing. He does not expect a report to be ready for some time.
McCombs said he attempted to question bus driver Frank Schaffner, but Schaffner has retained an attorney and has not spoken to investigators other than at the scene of the crash April 26.
The Federal Railroad Commission is leading the investigation, McCombs said, along with Evans City and the state police.
McCombs said some of the 10 injured remain hospitalized.
The PUC oversees public railroad crossings because two former entities, the state Railroad Commission and the state Public Service Commission, were abolished in 1937 to form the Public Utilities Commission. That entity inherited the oversight of railroads.