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New England News

Safety Improvements To Be Made At Railroad Crossing Where 5 People Have Died

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WAMC
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    Safety improvements will be made at a hazardous railroad crossing in western Massachusetts. The family of a man who was killed in 2017 campaigned to assure his death at the site would be the last.

   Amtrak will install a gate, warning lights, and the power system for the safety infrastructure at the railroad crossing on Birnie Road in Longmeadow.

   Five people have been killed there including Longmeadow DPW foreman Warren Cowles. He died on March 14, 2017 when the snowplow he was driving in blizzard conditions was struck by a northbound Amtrak train.

  His sister Cindy Cowles rallied the community to demand safety improvements at the crossing.

  "They say the government works slow, which I know they do, but I don't," said Cowles. " I was determined this is going to be done sooner than latter."

  Standing less than 100 yards from where her brother died, Cowles and other family members joined with town and state officials to react to the announcement that funding had been committed for the safety upgrades.

  " Its sad that my brother is not here, but happy that hopefully he will be the last and we can save other DPW guys or Longmeadow residents," said Cowles.

  MassDOT is paying $700,000, which officials say will cover 90 percent of the cost of the project, and Amtrak will pay the balance.

  The work to install the gate and warning lights at the crossing is expected to begin in 2019.

" I wanted this done before something happened to my mother, who is 89-years-old now and not doing so well," said Cowles.  "It is good at least  she'll know something will be done and  her son did not die for nothing."

Cowles pointed to reporting by The Republican for raising public awareness about the grim history of the Birnie Road railroad crossing.

  State Senator Eric Lesser (D-Longmeadow) said the MassDOT funding is “tremendous news.”

  Lesser credited U.S. Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) for putting pressure on Amtrak.  At a confirmation hearing for a member of Amtrak’s board of governors last year, Markey inquired about what was being done about the crossing and declared the five deaths were  “five too many.”

  There are two sets of tracks at the Birnie Road crossing that carry high-speed commuter trains between Hartford and Springfield.   Earlier this year, the speed and frequency of the trains on the rail corridor increased.

   The town-owned road is not heavily traveled, according to Longmeadow Town Manager Stephen Crane.

   "It does  not matter as much how many cars, but how safe is the passage for those vehicles and that is why the crossing is being upgraded," said Crane.

  On one side of the tracks is a residential neighborhood and on the other side is a wildlife sanctuary.

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