Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn attributed the delay to negotiations about who would pay what, a CSX request to close the crossings and the lengthy procurement requirements for federal money. The state Department of Transportation, which Rahn heads, is preparing to submit finalized documentation for the project to the Federal Railroad Administration for review.
“I can assure you we will be approaching this expeditiously,” Rahn said in an interview.
Still it’s been six years since the derailment caused by the garbage truck created a massive chemical explosion and several days since a train struck a car, dragging it for hundreds of feet before it could lumber to a stop. The driver suffered life-threatening injuries and was taken to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center.
And the grant money remains unspent in federal coffers.
After the 2013 accident, Maryland applied twice before securing the grant in 2016. At the time, CSX pledged an initial $112,000, then increased its commitment to $546,000, for the improvements to the private crossing and three others nearby, Rahn said. The state and Baltimore County each agreed to kick in $77,000 to pay for the remainder, he said.
The railroad crossing off the 7500 block of Lake Drive, leading to an industrial yard owned by Hawkeye Construction, has stop signs and railroad crossing signs on each side. Private railroad crossings like this one are not required by law to have active grade crossing warnings, such as flashing red lights, bells and the gates that block vehicle traffic from the tracks when trains are coming.
CSX crews cut back vegetation and added new signage to the intersections in 2015, and the railroad is “in compliance with all required state and federal regulations regarding highway rail grade crossings,” a spokesperson for the Jacksonville, Florida-based company said in a statement.
“We have worked collaboratively with the state in securing federal grant funds for additional crossing upgrades and stand ready to assist with the implementation of any recommended improvements," the statement said. "CSX strongly urges motorists and pedestrians to approach all highway-rail grade crossings with caution and abide by all signage and warning devices.”
Andrew Todtz, president of Hawkeye Construction, confirmed that the railroad has removed brush along the tracks.
“But nothing else has been done to improve the safety of the crossing,” he said in an email Thursday. “We have met with county officials and CSX representatives on more than one occasion to discuss these issues and have yet to see any progress made.”
After the 2013 crash, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that Maryland conduct engineering studies of the crossings and “take actions to improve their safety, such as removing visual obstructions, installing signage, and altering roadway geometry."
The NTSB’s recommendation for CSX was to “assist the state of Maryland in taking actions identified by the state to improve the safety of the accident grade crossing.”
The Maryland Department of Transportation said the plan calls for adding half-roadway gates, bells and lights at the Lake Drive crossing, as well as crossings at Contractors Road, Schaefers Lane and Batavia Farms Road.
The railroad would install the devices and be reimbursed with the funding from the state, the county and the Federal Railroad Administration grant, Rahn said.
But the project was delayed when CSX asked whether the railroad could close the crossings, which would simultaneously avoid the concerns about vehicles and pedestrians being struck and allow trains to run faster, the transportation secretary said.
“CSX wanted to see if they could do more to improve the corridor,” Rahn said.
The county evaluated the idea, but officials determined it would not be feasible because the crossings were located in a busy industrial area, Baltimore County spokeswoman Dori Henry said.
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. is “committed to providing the county funds that were previously committed to support CSX’s efforts for safety enhancements at the crossings,” Henry said.
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The state and county asked the railroad in April to return to the original plan, Rahn said.
CSX sent back the updated statement of work, the document that outlines a project’s scope and timeline, to the Maryland Department of Transportation last month, said Erin Henson, the agency’s spokeswoman.
The state transportation department is now reviewing and finalizing that document, and also drafting a categorical exclusion noting that the work will have no environmental impacts, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act, Henson said.
She said she could not provide an estimate for when the agency plans to submit them to the federal government for review.
“The grant funding will not be available until the [Federal Railroad Administration] signs off on both documents,” Henson said. “That’s when the grant becomes obligated.”