Tracks out of Service
Tracks out of Service

Sometime last week, Seattle chalked up another tiny victory in the endless war against slow, unreliable transit. Yesterday evening, I noticed that SDOT had finally replaced the unnecessary crossbucks for the long abandoned and disconnected Bardahl industrial spur on 14th Ave NW at Leary. No longer will Route 40 drivers risk severe punishment if they fail to stop and look for a train that will never appear, sometimes missing the light as they do. I’m told that railroad bureaucracy is the worst kind of bureaucracy, so to the staff who worked to made this happen — thank you very much.

33 Replies to “14th Ave NW Crossbucks Finally Removed”

  1. I’ve seen VeloBusDriver talk about another RR crossing in Bellevue that forces B line drivers to stop, even though the line has been abandoned for years. What makes these crossings so hard to be marked exempt?

    1. I wrote about the two problematic crossings in Bellevue back in June. At the time, I was told by staff that they are working with Sound Transit to post “Out of Service” signs at 10 grade crossings including these two but that they need permission from the underlying owner of the corridor which, I believe, is currently the Port of Seattle.

      Given the recent lawsuit by Ballard Terminal Railroad, I’m sure the politics behind this are interesting, to say the least. Anybody have any contacts within the Port of Seattle?

    1. Those tracks, despite their state of disrepair and all the cars parked on them along Occidental, are still connected to an active railyard to the north, so it’s theoretically possible a train might roll down them at some point.

      However, the train wouldn’t get very far, as the tracks end almost immediately to the south of Lander.

      1. I suspect that might be difficult since the switch that connects them to the rail yard right at S. Stacy St has been completely paved over with asphault.

      2. You literally have a greater chance of being hit by an aircraft than a train at that location.

  2. And I had my power tools and balaclava all laid out and ready to go.

    Thanks, SDOT, for doing this the right way!

  3. Thanks also to King County Councilman Larry Phillips, who I think helped out on this. Right spirit, d.p., but this close to Ballard, good carpentry technique is important. War on stupidity requires safety glasses and ear-protection, and also care that holes in the balaclava are on the correct side of your head.

    Mark Dublin

    1. And just for clarification, d.p., I’m not implying you or your approach are stupid. I’m talking about the long-overdue declaration of war against everything in the same category as threatening punishment to bus drivers for failing to make a dangerous and needless stop for twenty feet of track terminating in a gravel parking lot at one end and a paved one at the other.

      And everything else that results in transit being delayed for no reason on earth- which has gotten real personal lately. My machining instructor at Lake Washington Institute of Technology in Kirkland has same tolerance for late reports as the window-man at Atlantic Base. My GPA records how successfully I leave home in Ballard at 5AM for a 7AM report. Involving two transfers.

      The time lost to ghost trains on Leary was a fraction of the repeated absolutely needless stops at red lights with the nearest cross-traffic in a city full of darkened garages and street-lit curbs. If the whole arterial length of the 40 between Downtowns Ballard and Seattle were put to yellow, with cross-streets flashing red, what would be in danger besides oil company profits?

      Nowadays authority loves to demand accountability- meaning punishing the poor and the subordinate. Let’s see the balance sheet on the wasted fuel and the increased maintenance resulting from the thousands of needless starts and stops by multi-ton machinery. Let alone everybody’s wasted time, which like the saying says, is serious cash.

      Also: be sure there are no nails or bolts in front of your saw, and notch your cut so the sign doesn’t fall in the way of a bus.

      Mark Dublin

      1. Actually all you really need is a socket wrench. The signs can be unbolted without going all lumberjack on the posts.

  4. Tracks like these from old spurs are a cause of bicycle injury when wheels get channeled into the groove.

      1. I’ll admit to crashing this way twice (once on the near northwest side of Chicago, once in its western suburb of Elmhurst). I certainly know how to ride a bike. Sometimes it’s not so easy. The Chicago case was probably just stupid, but in fairness to me (I try to be fair to myself) the tracks weren’t marked at all and I generally pay more attention to traffic than the road surface. In the Elmhurst case, again the tracks weren’t marked at all and it was dark. When JB call out old spurs particularly, it’s because these often cross roads at shallow angles; this was the case in both of my crashes; and in both cases the tracks were certainly out of use — the tracks had been removed outside of the roadway.

        I’ve also flatted at a railroad crossing in Fremont, CA, but that was because of a pavement defect.

        Railroads are important to a lot of industries. All I ask is that tracks are well marked with reflective markings, that road design gives cyclists a protected place to cross at a reasonable angle, and that if the tracks have been removed everywhere except the roadway that they also be removed from the roadway.

    1. When I was little more than a baby, my dad went down hard on a road bike, riding on the Waterfront. His tire went into a gap between the pier and the sidewalk.

      Now those gaps are all covered with rubber or metal.

    1. It’s very rare that the bus actually stops there. I think I remember one driver doing it last year and being told by the supervisor on the bus, you can skip that one.

  5. That punishment to which you refer, BTW, is not of Metro’s doing. The operator’s commercial drivers license can be suspended. Ask Metro how many operators have lost their CDL over not stopping at abandoned tracks. When that happens you are talking serious money, both for the operator suddenly without wages and for the agency having to cover her or him for the length of the suspension.

    1. Didn’t say punishment would be Metro’s fault. Just that governmental agencies at all levels insisting on doing things that don’t make sense has a price. Especially at this juncture in US history, when the reputations of government and public service are fighting for their lives.

      Remember also that our country was founded in the Age of Reason, and that our most memorable founding document was called “Common Sense.”

      Mark Dublin

    2. Yeah, Brent. I have noticed this is a MAJOR problem with Metro buses maintaining their schedule(s). Old RR crossings…Jeez.

      1. Your snarky tone aside, the issue is more about delays adding up system wide. A perfectly executed stop, look, listen, reaccelerate cycle took about 30 seconds on the B Line (30 mph speed limit). Add in the fact that you often miss a light since they are timed for general traffic, not buses that have to stop, and the added delay can be as high as 2.5 minutes. Multiply that by 12 buses per hour (B Line, peak, 2 directions) to get numbers that start to get interesting. Add in deadheads and multiple crossings (NE 8th in Bellevue, Lander, Royal Brougham) and other affected high frequency routes (124, 41, 50, ????) and multiply those numbers by the numbers of weekdays in a year and then you start talking about unfunded mandates from Olympia.

        Multiplication: It makes numbers interesting…

  6. Does anyone know the reason behind the bureaucratic decision that bus drivers have to stop at abandoned tracks. Even tracks that are in active use, ordinary drivers don’t have to stop there unless a train is approaching and the signal is flashing. I see no reason why buses need to be subject to a more stringent standard of railroad safety than anyone else.

    Nevertheless, I can take a good guess of what happened. It probably began when some nutcase bus driver 50 years ago plowed through a red signal and got hit by a train. (Or, maybe it was a rural area where there was just a stop sign and not even a signal). This led to a big emotional public reaction, which led to new rules to reflect the new reality that bus drivers could no longer be trusted to obey railroad crossing signals, hence the need to stop at every track crossing.

    Of course, such rules did not permeate into the world of private cars because it would cause needless delays and traffic pileups. And nobody bothered to think about why buses need to be subject to more stringent rules that create delays, which ordinary car drivers don’t need to follow. After all, if you don’t like it, you can always drive, and such rules were set back a time when everyone believed public transit was a legacy transportation system and in another few decades, private cars would replace it entirely.

    And, so, we end up with the system we have today.

    1. asdf,

      While you are not too far off the mark, let me clarify why busses are required by law to stop at all morked railroad crossings.

      Busses, as you know, are usually 35-45 feet in length. They also are slow to accelerate, stop, and brake. Because of traffic conditions and railroad crossing placement, busses may get stuck sitting in a lane without the ability to move forward. This condition, where a bus is sitting with one axel on either side of the tracks, or the body sticking partially over the right-of-way, is extremely dangerous, both to passengers, and the railroad. As you can imagine, the importance of having enough clearance in front of a bus to clear the tracks is important.

      Bus-Train collisions are exceedingly rare today, but that was not the case even a decade ago. And in the vast majority of cases, the bus driver was at fault for the collision, which is why rules were enacted.

      The problem that you may be seeing more often is when railroad tracks are not in use, or “abandoned” in place, causing busses to stop at crossings that are not in use. Unfortunately for busses, even tracks that are out of service may be put back in service, and with that uncertainty, it is just better to err on the side of safety than to let a bus get struck by a train.

      1. ” with that uncertainty, it is just better to err on the side of safety than to let a bus get struck by a train.”

        There is no way in hell a train will hit any vehicle at the still marked crossing east of First at Lander. The error is in the stupidity of requiring a full stop before crossing any obviously out of service tracks. You are not erring on the side of safety in any case where there is no safety issue. You are erring on the side of stupidity.

    2. I think this is why the buses have to stop at railroad crossings. There are some exceptions to the rule, but it’s likely that a stack of paperwork must be completed before an exemption can be granted. Section 3(e) seems to have been applied here, although 3(c) would have been valid also.

      First Student, the school bus operator, has a base off East Marginal Way that requires buses to cross an active Union Pacific line, so they post flaggers at the crossing to keep the buses moving.

      1. Under exceptions:

        ” (b) A functioning traffic control signal is transmitting a green light.”

        This would make crossing Link’s tracks at Royal Brougham and Lander MUCH easier, but I believe there is debate on whether the green lights at those crossings are applicable since they aren’t physically connected to the train signals. Metro has issued clarification to us that if we are stopped at the stop bar for a red light, that’s within 50 feet so we do not need to stop again. If the “functional green light” at those crossings counts, that would help the 41s, 124s, 50s, and all buses that deadhead through the area.

        ” (c) The tracks are used exclusively for a streetcar or industrial switching purposes.”

        Clarification of “Industrial Switching” could be all that’s needed in many cases. Those tracks on Lander & 1st Ave S sure look like Industrial switching to me, but I don’t know the technical definition.

      2. Metro has invalidated that exception (see the most recent policy manual) in a feat of bureaucratic overkill based on the assumption that drivers are too dense to know what a
        “Functioning signal” is. That one is all Metro, and why we have to do a full stop with 4 ways even when the gate is up nd the light green, such as at Holgate and Lander crossings for both Link and BNSF.

    3. If it’s strictly a matter of vehicle length, why aren’t large trucks required to stop at railroad crossings too, just like buses are?

      1. And certain trucks are required to stop, ones with flammable cargo, for instance.

  7. FWIW, railroad bureaucracies may not be the *worst* but they are always considered the most *hide-bound*. There’s also a long tradition of not formally abandoning tracks but leaving them to rot in place, dating from the ICC era.

Comments are closed.