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Warnings slated at rail crossings

July 03, 1997

By JULIE E. GREENE

Staff Writer

Warning signs are expected to be posted today approaching rough railroad track crossings at Northern Avenue and Park Lane, Hagerstown City Engineer Bruce Johnston said Wednesday.

The signs will state "Rough crossing. Use caution," according to Johnston, who said he wanted to keep the message simple so drivers would have the chance to read it.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said Tuesday he'd prefer signs with more information - specifically the names and phone numbers of the state and railroad officials whose responsibility it is to ensure those tracks are safe to cross. That would provide residents with information needed to call with complaints.

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For years city officials have been battling CSX Corp. to get the crossings fixed, to no avail.

"The railroads are notorious for not reacting," City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said Tuesday at a work session for the mayor and City Council.

The rail ties are rotted and tend to kick up when driven over, Johnston said. The Park Lane crossing is in the worst shape, he said.

The posted speed limit at Northern is 25 mph, while a sign at the Park Lane crossing states 5 mph.

Motorists tend to drive at speeds exceeding 50 mph, at least on Northern, city officials have said.

Robert Herstein with the Maryland State Highway Administration said the earliest the crossing at Northern Avenue would be replaced is next July, but no major work was scheduled for the Park Lane crossing.

"Leaving it as is until 1998 just isn't good enough," Johnston said. City officials want at least a temporary fix until the crossing is replaced, he said.

At the urging of Johnston, Herstein said he is exploring whether state officials should exercise their right to fine the railroad for not properly maintaining the crossings.

Stephen Thienel, CSX's regional vice president for state relations, said maintenance work was scheduled for the Northern Avenue crossing, but he wasn't sure if it had been done.

Herstein said the state will chip in 20 percent of the cost of fixing the crossing with the federal government paying the other 80 percent because CSX won't bear the replacement cost.

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