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Safety improvements planned at Bellingham rail crossing before man was killed Tuesday

Five things to know about Bellingham’s F Street train crossing

Safety improvements were planned at the F Street railroad crossing near the Bellingham waterfront even before a bicyclist was killed there Tuesday, March 26, 2019.
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Safety improvements were planned at the F Street railroad crossing near the Bellingham waterfront even before a bicyclist was killed there Tuesday, March 26, 2019.

Safety improvements were planned at the F Street railroad crossing near the Bellingham waterfront, even before a bicyclist was killed there Tuesday morning.

A man ignored the locomotive’s horn as well as flashing lights and a pair of swing arms at the crossing — and nearby construction flaggers — as he rode from Roeder Avenue into the path of a southbound Amtrak passenger train, Bellingham Police said.

Police haven’t released the man’s name or why he didn’t stop, but he’s among the seven bicyclists or pedestrians who’ve been killed by trains in Whatcom County since 2011, according to data from the state Utilities and Transportation Commission.

Most recently, a 55-year-old woman died in December when she was in the path of a freight train at Boulevard Park.

“It’s preventable,” said Gus Melonas, spokesman for BNSF Railway, which owns the tracks.

“There are suicides, there are people not paying attention — you name it,” Melonas said in an interview. “We want the public to recognize that the tracks are active at all times.”

‘Quad gate’ coming to F Street crossing

Next year, the F Street crossing will be redesigned to improve safety in a $730,000 project that will add a “quad gate” replacing the current swing arms, said Amy Cloud, spokesperson for the Bellingham Public Works Department.

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A BNSF freight train heads toward downtown Bellingham along the waterfront at Wharf Street in summer 2018. Robert Mittendorf The Bellingham Herald

“It doesn’t just block the lane of traffic that is facing the railroad tracks, it stops it in both directions both ways,” Cloud said in an interview.

Railroad crossing improvements evolved from efforts in the Fairhaven and South Hill neighborhoods over the past decade to reduce train noise, The Bellingham Herald has reported.

Changes also were urged in a report commissioned by the state Legislature in 2016 that lists the F Street crossing as No. 29 among those statewide that need safety upgrades.

She said once the quad gate is in place, engineers won’t need to blow the locomotive’s horn.

The speed limit is 35 mph for passenger trains and 40 mph for freights, according to a city report that sought funding for the project from the state Department of Transportation.

Some 20 trains pass through the city every day, and the city has 11 public crossings.

Three sets of tracks cross F Street at that location, because it is part of the waterfront switching yard, the report said.

Some 4,600 vehicles per day drive over the crossing.

There were 30 car-train collisions at F Street from 2010 to 2016, with 12 injuries and no deaths, according to the report.

The cost of the F Street railroad crossing work and the name of one of the neighborhoods seeking reduced train noise was corrected March 28, 2019.

Robert Mittendorf covers civic issues, weather, traffic and how people are coping with the high cost of housing for The Bellingham Herald. A journalist since 1984, he’s also a volunteer firefighter for South Whatcom Fire Authority.
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