WILMINGTON, MA — It was revealed at this week’s Board of Selectmen Meeting that MBTA will not honor the request of Wilmington Public Safety officials to keep the North Wilmington train crossing clear for emergency vehicles when a train is stopped at the station.
“When the northbound train comes in, if they stop just the first car at the platform, it leaves four train cars across Route 62. The concern of emergency responders in town is we simply can’t get across the tracks while the train is in the depot,” explained Wilmington Police Chief Mike Begonis earlier this summer. “An average train stop runs between a minute and a minute-and-a half, sometimes up to 2 minutes. That’s a critical concern of ours when there’s a major incident on the other side of that crossing that we need to get to.”
The feared “nightmare” scenario occurred on Monday, June 17 when several fire apparatus and police officers were held up by a train at the North Wilmington station while responding to a call for service off of Salem Street.
“This has been an ongoing source of frustration for us. With that serious call for service, we would have hoped to have gotten there earlier,” said Begonis. “When we do observe the train blocking the station, we do call Keolis. We now have a 2-year history of logs.”
The town’s public safety officials and members of the state delegation met with MassDOT, MBTA and Keolis officials this summer to discuss these concerns. Wilmington Fire Chief Joe McMahon updated the Board of Selectmen on the progress of those talks on Monday night.
“The issue is, with trains going inbound, the gates are always going to be down. [MBTA’s] biggest fear is if the train stops prior to the crossing, and they’re loading the train, [drivers] are going to jump the gates,” said McMahon. “Outbound trains, for the most part, clear the gates and the gates do go up during the stop… But going inbound, things are not going to change. They told us that at the meeting. That will always occur unless they make the station bigger.”
“The way Keolis left it was for [the gates to go up during inbound stops], we need to update the station. The platform is too small. The trains have gotten larger and the platform has gotten smaller,” stressed McMahon.
To that end, Wilmington’s State Senator Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) recently inserted $1 million in the state’s most recent economic bond bill to fund improvements to the North Wilmington train station.
“That was a product of a discussion we had with Chief Begonis about an absolutely unacceptable situation that occurred there in regards to an impediment to an emergency medical response because the train was in the middle of the road,” Tarr recently told Selectmen. “We’ve been working with the Chief and officials from the MBTA to try to make operational improvements so that will never happen again. We put monies in the economic development bond bill in the hopes that we could agree upon a design, improve the attractiveness of that “port” into town, and ensure that the configuration of the train station would be such that it would now be conducive to getting the train out of the road when it stops…. The measure is two-fold — [economic development] and public safety.”
Governor Charlie Baker has signed the bond bill and did not veto the two Wilmington expenditures. The projects, however, must now be selected for inclusion in the Governor’s 5-year capital budget in order for the Town to have access to the funds. The next capital budget isn’t expected to be filed until May 2019.
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