Richmond mayor calls for safety measures on railroads following Monday collision

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Mayor Tom Butt calling for safety measures on railroads following Monday collision
Photo courtesy of the Richmond Police Department.

Richmond Mayor Tom Butt is calling for a tax on railroads to force their operators to make grade crossings safer in the wake of a potentially fatal collision between a train and vehicle on Monday.

“A tax on railroads of $0.01 per ton of freight would provide enough money to upgrade all these grade crossings and make them safe,” Butt wrote in his e-forum Friday.

Butt says railroads have no legal obligation to provide gates, bells and flashing lights at public rights of way. To remedy this, the mayor has asked residents to persuade California’s congresspeople such as local Rep. Mark DeSaulnier to forward a tax requiring railroads to implement safety measures on dangerous grade crossings.

On Monday, a BNSF Railway train collided with a sports utility vehicle at Harbour Way South and Wright Avenue, pushing the car 75 feet down the tracks. First responders said the driver, who escaped the collision with minor injuries, had apparently ignored the train horn before being struck. But that particular grade crossing, which runs diagonally across a four-way intersection, lacks the typical gate that prevents cars from driving on the tracks while a train approaches.

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The intersection at Harbour Way South and Wright Avenue.

Also, Butt says train horns are proven to be ineffective at preventing collisions.

“This particular crossing is unusually dangerous because the tracks cross the intersection diagonally, and vision is obscured by vegetation,” the mayor said. “Providing safety features would cost as much as $1 million, and federal law says that if a city wants them, the city, not the railroad, will have to pay for them.”

In addition to safety improvements at grade crossings, Butt hopes to make progress on his long-running efforts to lower the volume of train horns in the region. The horns can be loud enough to cause hearing loss and disrupt sleep, according to the mayor and officials in San Pablo, the mayor has said.

“The railroads perpetuate the myth that horn blowing is the solution for everything,” Butt told us.

He encourages residents to contact Assemblymember Tony Thurmond to ask him to sponsor a bill that would amend Public Utilities Code to address train horn volumes. Residents can email Thurmond’s chief of staff at Mary.Nicely@asm.ca.gov).

For more information on the harm of train horns, see this report. Below, Butt offered proposed language to amend Section 6706 of the Public Utilities Code:

Exhibit A – Proposed Amendment to Public Utilities Code Section 6706

Public Utilities Code – PUC

DIVISION 4. LAWS RELATING TO UTILITY CORPORATIONS AND THEIR EMPLOYEES [7503 – 8286]

  ( Division 4 enacted by Stats. 1951, Ch. 764. )

CHAPTER 1. Railroad Corporations [7503 – 7727]

  ( Chapter 1 enacted by Stats. 1951, Ch. 764. )

ARTICLE 5. Railroad Equipment [7601 – 7614]

  ( Article 5 enacted by Stats. 1951, Ch. 764. )

(a) (1) Except as provided in paragraph (3), a bell, siren, horn, whistle, or similar audible warning device shall be sounded at any public crossing in accordance with Section 222.21 of Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

(2) Except as provided in paragraph (3), a bell, siren, horn, whistle, or similar audible warning device shall be sounded, consistent with paragraph (1), at all rail crossings not subject to the requirements of Subpart B (commencing with Section 222.21) of Part 222 of Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

(3) A bell, siren, horn, whistle, or similar audible warning device shall not be sounded in those areas established as quiet zones pursuant to Subpart C (commencing with Section 222.33) of Part 222 of Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

(4) This section does not restrict the use of a bell, siren, horn, whistle, or similar audible warning device during an emergency or other situation authorized in Section 222.23 of Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

(5) A Quiet Zone may be established under the jurisdiction of the California Public Utilities Commission at any grade crossing not subject to (a)(1) in accordance with the provisions of 49 CFR 222, Subpart C, Exceptions to the Use of the Locomotive Horn, beginning with 222.33.

(b) Any railroad corporation violating this section shall be subject to a penalty of two thousand five hundred dollars ($2,500) for every violation. The penalty may be recovered in an action prosecuted by the district attorney of the proper county, for the use of the state. The corporation is also liable for all damages sustained by any person, and caused by its locomotives, train, or cars, when the provisions of this section are not complied with.

(Amended by Stats. 2006, Ch. 885, Sec. 3. Effective September 30, 2006.)

Exhibit B – Substitution of Wayside Horn

  1. 7604. Audible warning devises; sounding of devises; penalty for violations; liability for damage

(a) (1) Except as provided in paragraph (3), a bell, siren, horn, whistle, or similar audible warning device shall be sounded at any public crossing in accordance with Section 222.21 of Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

(2) Except as provided in paragraph (3), a bell, siren, horn, whistle, or similar audible warning device shall be sounded, consistent with paragraph (1), at all rail crossings not subject to the requirements of Subpart B (commencing with Section 222.21) of Part 222 of Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations.  For the purposes of this subsection, a similar audible warning device includes a wayside horn as defined in Section 222.9 of Title 49 and which meets the minimum requirements of Appendix E to Part 222.         

(3) A bell, siren, horn, whistle, or similar audible warning device shall not be sounded in those areas established as quiet zones pursuant to Subpart C (commencing with Section 222.33) of Part 222 of Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations.    (4) This section does not restrict the use of a bell, siren, horn, whistle, or similar audible warning device during an emergency or other situation authorized in Section 222.23 of Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

(b) Any railroad corporation violating this section shall be subject to a penalty of two thousand five hundred dollars ($2,500) for every violation. The penalty may be recovered in an action prosecuted by the district attorney of the proper county, for the use of the state. The corporation is also liable for all damages sustained by any person, and caused by its locomotives, train, or cars, when the provisions of this section are not complied with

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