After ANOTHER Rail Crossing Failure, Town Officials Pledge To Do Everything In Their Power To Require MBTA To Solve The Problems

Below is a press release from the Wilmington Town Manager’s Office:

Selectmen To Insist On Solutions To Ongoing Rail Crossing Failures

WILMINGTON, MA — On Friday evening, March 4, 2022, Town officials were informed of yet another incident involving rail crossing arms not functioning properly earlier in the evening.  In this instance the crossing arms were extended at the Glen Road rail crossing for a period of time.  Wilmington’s Central Dispatch was contacted and dispatched a police officer to the scene.  The officer remained until being relieved by an MBTA police officer.  State Representative David Robertson was immediately contacted about this incident.  Representative Robertson apprised State Senator Bruce Tarr of the situation and contacted Steven Poftak, MBTA General Manager.  Representatives from Keolis, the company contracted by the MBTA to operate the commuter rail system, were on scene and restored proper operation of the grade crossing arms later that evening.

Reportedly the cause for the gate arms remaining in the extended position was due to pooling of water concentrated with road salt around the rail tracks.  This circumstance apparently interfered with the electronics that control the gates which led to the gates reverting to a default safety mode of being extended across Glen Road.

Given the seriousness of the ongoing failures of safety features at rail crossings in Wilmington an emergency conference call was arranged for Saturday, March 5 which included Senator Tarr, Representative Robertson, Chair of the Board of Selectmen Lil Maselli and Selectmen Judy O’Connell who also serves as the Town’s representative to the MBTA Advisory Board and Town Manager Jeff Hull.

It was agreed that the delegation will seek to schedule a discussion with the MBTA General Manager and MBTA staff versed in the technical operation of the crossing gates as soon as possible to obtain a commitment that attention and resources will be directed to resolving these issues.  It is imperative that the reliability of the crossing gates be restored.  The group will also seek a commitment from the MBTA to provide Town officials with regular updates on work taking place to improve safety at the multiple rail crossings in Wilmington. The Town will pursue an agreement that the MBTA will notify representatives from the Police Department or other designated officials when they are performing work of any nature on or along the rail crossings in Wilmington.

There have been multiple explanations offered for the failures at grade crossings, in some instances conflicting with reports from the Town’s own police officers.  In the end, this cannot continue and the Board of Selectmen and the Town Manager in conjunction with Senator Tarr and Representative Robertson will remain focused and vigilant on holding the MBTA accountable.  We will do everything in our power to require them to solve the problems.

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Below is a press release from the office of State Representative Dave Robertson:

Wilmington Officials Intensify Efforts to Seek Grade Crossing Answers and Solutions

WILMINGTON, MA — Following the MBTA’s Glen Road rail crossing failing in a downward, “activated” status on the evening of March 4th, state and town officials for Wilmington spent the evening ensuring reestablished service and safety before conferring an emergency conference call to develop further plans to address the marked increase in road crossing incidents.

Town Manager Jeff Hull alerted Representative David Robertson (D-Wilmington)  and Senator Bruce Tarr (R-Glouchester) of the reported failure confirmed by the Wilmington Police, who had responded to motorist calls of a gate failing to rise. Upon this report the state delegation immediately contacted the MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak, who continuously advised state and local officials of the ongoing gate repairs and the preliminary analysis of the cause. Following restoration of service at the crossing the MBTA apprised Wilmington officials on additional safety precautions being taken for the evening. Reports from the MBTA field technicians point to a pooling of road-salt saturated water on the sensor equipment as the source of the problem. The chemical solution flooding the sensors purportedly caused a “confusing” set of electrical signals from the rail-bed signal to the crossing gate, causing it to lower itself as a precaution. This failure also occurred previously at the grade crossing on Middlesex Avenue.

On Saturday Mr. Hull joined Chair of the Board Lilia Maselli, Selectboard member and MBTA delegate Judy O’Connell, Senator Bruce Tarr, and Representative Robertson for an emergency discussion on the issue. Among many topics discussed was the topography and drainage of the rail corridor, recent MBTA track maintenance that may have exacerbated puddling, and examination of gate failure rates during previous high snowfall winters.

“We have been painfully reminded recently of the fact that grade crossings must be properly maintained and functioning to protect the safety of motorists, pedestrians, and those aboard train. Consequently, we will continue to pursue in a unified way, with the MBTA, all available options to ensure he safety of crossings in Wilmington, and to apply these options were they are needed across the state thereafter,” said State Rep. Dave Robertson. 

Several preliminary steps towards furthering solutions were also discussed, including the renewed demand for an MBTA delegation to come before the town government and public, and that such a delegation should consist of both policy and technical experts to address concerns of any nature. Other solutions raised on the call included proposals for gate-monitoring computer systems to be installed to report any gate failures immediately, and to inquire if industrial use of the rail line has potentially contributed to the higher rate of grade crossing failures. All members also agreed to solicit public comment and concerns in future public meetings, as well as from all selectboard members and public safety officials.

“Since the fatal incident occurred Senator Tarr, Representative Gordon, and I have cooperated in pursuing every possible solution in partnership with the town,” said Robertson. “My particular focus on this has been soliciting and reviewing information about grade-crossing safety equipment from railroads like BSNF, CSX, and other state railroads who encounter heavy winter weather. By speaking to these railroads we are able to gauge what their best-practices are here in terms of grade-crossing safety, and work to install equipment they use here” said Representative Robertson.  “We have been working on this issue literally every day, but as Glen Rd’s crossing demonstrated Friday, time is of the absolute essence.”

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