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Transportation Board Hears Norwich Residents’ Concerns About Rail Crossing

  • Paula Bergeron, of Norwich, Vt., points towards railroad tracks near Kendall Station Road in Norwich on May 3, 2018. The Vermont Transportation Board conducted a site visit at the southern railroad crossing. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • A train crosses at the Kendall Station Road in Norwich, Vt., on May 3, 2018. Two freight trains pass this railroad crossing daily. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Peter Young, an attorney for Washington County Railroad Company, a subsidiary of the Vermont Rail System, takes notes while listening to a person speak during a site visit at Kendall Station Road in Norwich, Vt. on May 3, 2018. The Vermont Transportation Board conducted a site visit and held a hearing regarding the southern railroad crossing. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Vermont Transportation Board Executive Secretary John Zicconi, center, speaks as board members David Coen and Faith Terry listen during a hearing for the southern railroad crossing at Kendall Station Road in Norwich, Vt. on May 3, 2018. The board conducted a site visit and held a hearing regarding the southern railroad crossing. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/3/2018 11:56:13 PM
Modified: 5/4/2018 11:12:36 AM

Norwich — Ernie Ciccotelli began counting on Wednesday night, right as he heard the whistle that often signals a train’s approach to his Norwich neighborhood.

The Kendall Station Road resident made it to “10 Mississippi” before seeing the train cross the tracks on the residential road, which parallels Route 5 just north of the confluence of the Ompompanoosuc and Connecticut rivers.

The warning seemed too short, Ciccotelli recalled thinking. That’s especially true considering most cars have to stop almost directly on the tracks to see downfield, he said.

“The train doesn’t let anyone know (when it’s coming),” Ciccotelli said, standing near the railroad crossing on Thursday morning. “It gives them a 10-second blast and that’s it. That’s the best I ever counted.”

It’s not only the scant warning of a train’s approach that concerned Ciccotelli and roughly 20 neighbors who gathered on Thursday to lobby the Vermont Transportation Board for more substantive safety measures at the railroad crossing.

Without a warning light or any guard bars at the rail crossing on Kendall Station Road, drivers often find it difficult to tell when a train is just around the bend, they told transportation officials.

Often, cars can’t see down the tracks until they’re either passing or right over them, neighbors reported.

“What we really need is a long-distance warning,” Ciccotelli said. “And that would be basically some kind of a crossing light.”

The Transportation Board visited the crossing and held a hearing with neighbors as part of an investigation into safety on Kendall Station Road.

The inquiry began after the Washington County Railroad Company, a subsidiary of the Vermont Rail System, closed another crossing on the northern end of the road in 2017, resulting in a dispute between neighbors and the railroad, according to board Chairman David Coen.

At the time, railroad officials said what they described as an “old farm crossing” on the north end was dangerous, especially in the winter when vehicles could get stuck on the tracks.

Neighbors countered that by closing off the crossing, they would be left with only one way to access Route 5.

The transportation board ultimately fined the railroad $2,000 for unilaterally closing the crossing and later failing to abide by the terms of a state order to file plans before moving forward.

But it’s unclear what the board might recommend to mitigate concerns regarding the southern crossing still in operation, especially after a safety assessment by the Vermont Agency of Transportation recommended no action for the site.

Improvements could be made on the road, but that’s also true for about 40 percent of all railroad crossings in Vermont, said Toni Clithero, an assistant attorney general at the AOT.

Kendall Station Road sees about two trains every day and roughly 110 vehicle trips, too little to justify the $300,000 cost to install lights, she said.

“The determination that is reached at this time is not to take any further action,” Clithero said.

Tim Chow, an inventor who lives on Kendal Station Road, challenged that analysis. Chow researched federal rail regulations ahead of the meeting, and said the sightlines at the tracks aren’t adequate for drivers.

“For a train traveling 25 mph, you should be able to see 600 feet both ways up the track,” he said. “I measured it at 225 feet.”

Chow also noted scrape marks on the pavement where he believes cars have bottomed out trying to make their way up the tracks, saying the road itself might need to be investigated more closely.

Kendall Station residents also said the speed of the trains is making an already scary situation worse.

The Vermont Rail System recently made improvements to the track, allowing trains to reach 25 mph, up from about 10 or 15 mph before the upgrade.

“The train is coming at different speeds,” said another resident, filmmaker Nora Jacobson, during the hearing. “When it comes by at 25 or 30 (mph), we’re terrified.”

Railroad officials on Thursday pushed back against some of those worries. Peter Young, an attorney for the Washington County Railroad Company, said that horns are federally regulated, and engineers know when and how long they should be used.

The now-barricaded northern crossing on Kendall Station Road wasn’t one of those places because of its status as a farm crossing, Young said.

But he also offered to take residents’ concerns back to railroad company officials.

When transportation officials asked whether the tracks running through Norwich would ever see increased use, Young replied that the railroad hopes to see more traffic in the future.

“Our long-term hope would certainly be to expand our use of the rail network,” he said.

The Transportation Board likely will continue its discussion regarding the railroad crossing in June.

The board will continue accepting citizen testimony, which can be submitted at http://tboard.vermont.gov/contact, for the next two weeks.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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