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Railroad crossing on Route 117 is getting a gate; Barrier, lights intended to help prevent crashes.

Byline: Lynne Klaft

LANCASTER - Seven Bridge Road is always busy - cars, 18-wheelers, and everything in between travel this stretch of Route 117 at all hours of the day, seven days a week.

And after 17 years of requesting a gated railroad crossing and seeing two fatalities at the train tracks that cross the road, Selectman Jack P. Sonia is witness to the installation of a lighted, cantilevered gate and arm system at the crossing, near Harvard Road.

"Brian (D. DiPietro) and I have been working on this since 1992. There were two fatalities, a lady and there was a produce truck from Leominster that actually got hit and dragged down the tracks," said Mr. Sonia, former Department of Public Works superintendent.

A Leominster man, Lawrence Katon, was driving a truck for Cefalo Brothers Produce of Fitchburg when his vehicle was struck by a train on April 15, 1981. Mr. Katon was killed in the crash.

Rita M. Brazell, 81, of Athol was killed when her car was struck by a freight train heading north across Route 117 on the morning of May 28, 1997. She had driven through flashing warning lights.

Mr. DiPietro, a train engineer for Pan Am Southern of North Billerica, is a member of the Rail Crossing Safety Commission of Massachusetts and also served as a Lancaster DPW commissioner.

"The Safety Commission makes presentations for other transit authorities like the MBTA and CSX Corp., the company that took over ConRail," said Mr. DiPietro.

The safety system being installed consists of a 20-foot mast that will hold a cantilever catwalk with half a dozen 12-inch-wide lights. It will be suspended above traffic on the westbound side of Route 117 and will be lowered before a train crosses. An overhead arm with another six lights will swing down at the same time on the other side of the road.

The catwalk will be suspended higher than the state's required minimum of 14-1/2 feet above the roadway.

"The gate will be lowered a minimum of 40 seconds before the train crosses the road," said Mr. DiPietro.

"The project, estimated at $175,000 five years ago, will be paid for by the federal government at 90 percent and 10 percent by Pan Am. The company has been completely supportive, both the railroad and their Safety Department," added Mr. DiPietro.

The men anticipate the project to be completed in the next 30 days.

Trains use the track at least twice a day, morning and evening, according to Mr. DiPietro.

Larry Record has lived right next to the railroad crossing for more than 30 years and is skeptical about whether motorists will heed the signals.

"I think it's going to be a horror show. They don't pay attention to the lights now. I've seen five, six cars passing through the red lights and you know there's a $300 fine if you get caught. They'll try to go under the thing.

"You hear brakes squealing all the time. They drive like idiots," Mr. Record said.

The railroad company is also installing a safety signal light system on Pine Hill Crossing, where trucks carrying loads of sand cross the Pan Am tracks every day.

ART: PHOTOS

CUTLINE: (1) John Fleet, left, and Alan Hodgman work on lights yesterday at the railroad crossing at Seven Bridge Road as they install a safety gate. They work for Pan Am Railroad. (2) The crossing at Seven Bridge Road, which is the local name for this section of Route 117. Until now the signal lights have served to warn drivers of approaching trains, but there has been no safety gate there.

PHOTOG: T&G Staff Photos/CHRISTINE PETERSON
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Sep 4, 2009
Words:610
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