Town may get pair of new railroad crossings
DENVER – After a long day of testimony in a Denver courtroom, Avon representatives are confident the town will be allowed to build two ground-level crossings over the railroad tracks through town. Several development projects depend on those crossings.
“I think it went well,” said Tambi Katieb, Avon’s community development director, who testified during Monday’s hearing. “The burden of proof was on Union Pacific, and I think they failed to demonstrate why an at-grade (ground-level) crossing isn’t appropriate.”
The crossings, which were previously approved by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, would connect west Avon to Riverfront Village, a development of hotel rooms, shops, condos and a gondola to Beaver Creek. Construction on that project started this year.
Union Pacific Railroad appealed the commission’s decision to grant the crossings after announcing plans to run trains along the now-inactive line, saying the it would need to move cars through Avon for storage in Minturn. Because of the possible new activity ” railroad officials say one train a week could go through Avon ” Union Pacific said ground level crossings would be too dangerous.
“There’s an inherent danger of having pedestrians interface with trains,” said Kathleen Snead, Union Pacific’s attorney. “And these are freight trains. They’re very heavy. They’re very hard to stop.”
Snead recommended an underground pedestrian crossing.
“Pedestrians will not truly appreciate the power of a moving train, its inability to stop quickly and the possible hazard of tripping as they make their way across,” Snead said.
Circulating a photo of people ducking crossing guards as a light rail train approached in Denver, Snead said people “do not heed warnings when it comes to trains.”
Snead said the railroad would rather have no new crossings. But if Administrative Law Judge Dale Isley does approve the town’s request, Snead asked that the town get just one crossing to cut down on accidents and because Avon “has not shown it needs these crossings.”
But the chance of accidents appears to be slim. Patricia Fischhaber, the chief of rail and transit safety section of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, conducted a hazard and safety analysis for the line through Avon.
She said the requested eastern crossing ” across the street from the east end of the Seasons building ” would see one accident every 50 years, while the western crossing ” across the street from the Avon fire station ” could see one accident every 100 years.
“Based on that, I would be very surprised if the decision from the (Public Utilities Commission) was different from what we got last time,” said John Dunn, Avon’s town attorney.
After recommending that the crossings have flashing lights and drop-down traffic barriers, Fischhaber said the commission should uphold its previous decision.
“She was caught giving the only answer she could have given, so I’m happy,” Town Manager Larry Brooks said. “We’re hoping to wrap it up in the next few weeks and move on.”
If approved at this level, the state agency will require Avon to submit plans for the crossings to Union Pacific for approval.
“I doubt they’ll expedite the process, but I don’t anticipate any problems,” Dunn said.
Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 748-2927 or firstname.lastname@example.org.