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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, November 27, 2008

Will near-death crash give birth to new road?

By Jo E. Prout

NEW SCOTLAND — Days after a near-death train and car collision, town officials, the state Department of Transportation, and railroad company CSX agreed to close the Youmans Road railroad crossing.

Supervisor Thomas Dolin met with DOT, Federal Railway Authority, and CSX representatives Tuesday.

“We had a very successful meeting,” Dolin said. “Everyone agreed that the crossing should be closed permanently.”

Peter Salerno and two of his daughters survived being hit by two trains on Saturday at the Youmans Road crossing near their home. Salerno and his four children, along with his parents in an attached apartment, live in one of two homes on the dead-end side of the tracks on Youmans Road; they are often left stranded when trains stop and block the crossing.

Since 2004, residents of the area have called for the crossing’s closing, upgrade, or a new town road that allows egress from Youmans Road to another housing development without having to cross the rail line. Plans for a connector road had fallen by the wayside as the town and CSX, which operates the line, continued to negotiate about which agency holds responsibility for the crossing.

“We’ve had an ongoing difference of opinion with them,” Dolin said about CSX. “They say it’s a private crossing. We’ve treated Youmans Road as a public road. I think they’re obligated to do what they do for a public road.” Dolin said that the railroad is required to put up warning features like guard rails and lights at public crossings.

Before the meeting Tuesday, Dolin said, he had already asked local farmer Andus Lavalley for the temporary use of a farm lane that would bypass the crossing, making access out of Youmans Road to Great View Terrace, and then Swift Road, safer through the winter for the Salernos and their neighbors.

“I approached him this afternoon,” Dolin said Monday about Lavalley, “to see if he would be willing to allow Salerno and his neighbor to use the private road in the winter. He was inclined to help them in this way. It’s a dirt road. It’s got some stone on it. The town would hopefully bring in some crusher run [stone] or something so it could be plowed.”

The land is currently used by the farmer to place his tractors in a barn at the end of the lane, Dolin said.

“He wanted to help his neighbors,” Dolin said. The temporary road would “allow the town to develop a more permanent solution, which would involve constructing a road, assuming financial assistance from the state and CSX,” he said.

After the Tuesday meeting, Dolin said, “It was agreed as a permanent solution [that] a new permanent town road would be built. It will parallel Mr. Lavalley’s farm road and connect the end of Youmans Road with the turn-around at Great View Terrace.”

Dolin said that the cost of the 1,700-foot new road would be about $400,000 for design and construction, not including land acquisition costs. The project is expected to be completed within nine months, he said. Engineers from DOT, and town engineer R. Mark Dempf, agreed that wetland permits and archeology studies would need to be done for the new road, Dolin said. The suggested route traverses difficult terrain and runs near an electrical transmission tower, he said.

“Everybody recognizes it’s critical that we get this completed,” Dolin said.

“Obviously, the residents of the town of New Scotland don’t have the resources to accomplish this project,” Dolin said. “CSX and the state DOT indicated at the [Tuesday] meeting that they would arrange for the funding of the project.”

“I’m going to ask the town board if they will advance a minimal amount of money,” Dolin continued, “to improve Mr. Lavalley’s farm road. I think, ultimately, we’ll be reimbursed.”

Dolin said that he will also ask the town board to allow Highway Superintendent Darrell Duncan to make improvements, plow, and salt the farm road this winter.

“Everybody’s just amazed and thankful that there weren’t any injuries,” Dolin said.

Past experience

Nearly five years ago, housing developers hoping to put homes on Youmans Road proposed a connector road between Great View Terrace and Youmans, effectively creating a long cul-de-sac. The two homes on Youmans Road, isolated on the west side of the crossing, would have had long driveways to intercept the connector road.

“You can’t see trains coming until you’re right up on the tracks,” a Youmans Road landowner told The Enterprise then.

The road on the west side of the tracks, where Salerno lives, is one narrow lane. It rises in about a 20-degree incline; then, on the other side of the track, there is another 20-degree decline. The car lane is bordered by a steeply-pitched ditch. The crossing has no safety gate, no warning lights to indicate when a train is approaching. The only warning is when a train engineer pulls a whistle.

Salerno said he heard no whistle Saturday morning.

Randy Dickenson of the Federal Railroad Administration told The Enterprise in 2005 there are no federal regulations limiting the amount of road incline leading up to a crossing and there is no federal regulation requiring an active warning device such as a gate or flashing lights.

In 2005, Dickenson, along with Ted Thompson of the DOT, and Maurice O’Connell from CSX all told The Enterprise that they would like to close this crossing.

“We would love to close the crossing,” O’Connell said, any time the opportunity arises, “we’re in favor.” It’s a “safety issue,” he said.

The plans to build a connector road are part of the reason that Salerno purchased his home in September 2007, he said. The location worried him, but for several reasons, the home became a good choice for his family, he said. The plans for the proposed road and development showed a future cul-de-sac and reassured him about buying the house.

“It still made me nervous,” Salerno said.

In December, a friend’s car got stuck on the track, where the road becomes a one-lane passage. Another truck tried to help, and also became stuck, Salerno said. He called CSX and told them to stop the trains.

“They were very rude,” Salerno said. He has called CSX many times, when he has been blocked and made late for work, school, or his children’s events.

“They tell me it’s my fault for choosing to live here,” he said.

In 2005, Ed Tubbs, CSX’s roadmaster out of Selkirk, told The Enterprise that trains have stopped at the Youmans Road crossing because the trains in front of them are backed up. Where a train stops, he said, depends on where a train in front has stopped and where a train is coming behind them.

Thompson said that Youmans Road is a public road grade crossing. In New Scotland, there are a number of public road grade crossings in close vicinity to each other.

Game Farm Road is at milepost marker 18.57; then Cooks Crossing, at Route 308, is milepost marker 19.47; Youmans Road, 20.70; Voorheesville Road at 22.00; South Main, 22.20; and Depot Road, 22.80.  At one point, two crossings are only two-tenths of a mile apart.

Camille Gibeau, who owned one of the two houses on the west side of the track from 1998 to 2007, previously told The Enterprise that the house on Youmans Road was built in 1849, before the track was laid. In 2004, she created a petition to have the crossing closed and to have the alternate road to Great View Terrace constructed.

“Did you know that freight trains approach this crossing at speeds up to 50 miles an hour and need one full mile to reach a complete stop?” she wrote in the petition.

In 2005, Gibeau asked town officials to close the crossing.

“It was just a time bomb,” Gibeau said this week. “They’re on notice. This is serious.”

When she moved from her Youmans Road home, Gibeau left the proposed plans for the connector road with the new owners, she said.

“It would avoid the train altogether,” she said. She said that she thought construction had been held up by percolation tests.

Permanent solution

Dolin, who took office in January, said that he was surprised when he realized the issue had gone unresolved since the subdivision application in 2004.

“I was kind of taken aback that nothing’s been done since then,” he said. Dolin said that he would ask affected homeowners, who would sell rights-of-way for the road, to agree to a nominal price for the land. Dolin said that, if the town builds a road, the landowners would then be able to subdivide the properties, something they had been unable to do previously.

While Dolin said that the town has “substantial reserves” and that the road construction had previously been estimated at $250,000, not including the purchase of rights-of-way, he said that he was “not conceding that the town is responsible.”

Dolin said this week, “I don’t anticipate any taxpayer dollars…will be spent on this. My stance is CSX and the state are responsible for correcting this problem. That’s why it hasn’t been resolved. There’s a difference of opinion of who should pay for it.”

Dolin said that he cannot legitimately ask the town to fund reconstruction of the crossing.

“There are certain state laws that obligate the state and CSX to pay for this,” Dolin said.

Salerno wants the connector road to be completed.

“I’m on the fence. DOT and the town have responded to what happened to me and my daughters, but they did not respond to the residents’ attempts” to close the crossing in the past, he said. “Why did it have to take a family to have to have a near-death experience to act and correct? That grieves me that it has to happen that way.”

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