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$1M to boost Santa Fe railroad crossing safety for pedestrians, cyclists

SANTA FE – About $1 million will be spent to upgrade pedestrian and bicycle safety at railroad crossings in Santa Fe based on a study spurred by the deaths of two bicyclists who rode in front of the Rail Runner commuter train in separate incidents earlier this year.

All roadway, trail and pedestrian crossings of the railroad tracks between Rodeo Road and Manhattan Street are included in the project.

Some crossings – including at Rodeo Road, Zia Road, St. Michael’s Drive and Paseo de Peralta – will get new sets of gates as well as warning lights where sidewalks or walking/biking trails intersect with the tracks.

There will also be “additional signage and striping improvements at all grade crossings to provide additional notice to bicyclists and pedestrians,” according to information provided by the state Department of Transportation. On St. Mike’s, what the DOT calls a “median refuge” – the median with curb cuts in the middle of six lanes of traffic for those using the Rail Trail to get across the busy thoroughfare near the tracks – will be relocated, “so both sides of the refuge are located outside the gates,” says a statement provided by the DOT.

Flashing lights are being added at crossings where trails parallel the tracks. Some trail and sidewalk realignment will take place on the approaches to the Rail Trail at Siringo Road and the Acequia Trail crossing north of Cerrillos on St. Francis. The tracks cut diagonally through the busy Cerrillos/St. Francis intersection.

The improvements have a budget of $975,000, using Highway Safety Improvement Program money the state received from the Federal Highway Administration.

In August, a study of the Santa Fe rail crossings was undertaken by a group of agencies including DOT, the Rio Metro Regional Transit District, the Federal Railroad Administration, the state Public Regulation Commission and Santa Fe city government.

Two bicyclists had been killed when they rode into the paths of Rail Runner trains since the spring. In April, a 60-year-old woman described as an experienced and cautious rider was hit at a sidewalk/trail crossing at Zia Road, and in June, a 41-year-old man was struck where the sidewalk crosses the train tracks on the north side of St. Mike’s.

The big gates that block motor traffic on the roadways as trains approach and warning bells and lights were functioning when the accidents took place. The Rail Runner doesn’t sound its horn at crossings unless there’s a potential emergency, part of an effort to reduce noise as it travels through Santa Fe neighborhoods.

There have been no gates to block pedestrians or cyclists on trails or sidewalks, where the main warnings have been traditional black-and-white, X-shaped railroad crossing signs and yellow “rumble strips” on the pavement just before the tracks.

Biking advocates and relatives and friends of the riders killed this year have been pushing for more safety measures at trail crossings.

The field review conducted in August “identified improvements at crossings that would improve safety,” DOT said Wednesday.

Rail Runner spokeswoman Augusta Meyers said Wednesday the work is expected to take about 45 days to complete.