By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — When it comes to reopening the Broadway commuter rail crossing, optimistic predictions followed by dashed hopes have bred a kind of cynicism when it comes to any new promise.
However, it does appear that the light at the end of the long tunnel has brightened somewhat. But that light comes with a cost, and it’s going to be a loud one.
Town Engineer William Renault told the Town Council last night that he has yet to receive the approval letter from the Federal Railroad Administration that he was expecting last week. That approval letter is needed for the town to reopen the crossing and retain its “Quiet Zone” status.
A Quiet Zone means that sufficient railroad crossing safety requirements, as defined by the FRA, have been met so that trains approaching crossings need not sound a warning horn.
Renault announced last night that a temporary compromise has been reached that will allow the crossing to open before receiving the official letter of approval. As soon as the town finishes installing the required construction of safety measures, it will be allowed to open the crossing. However, until the town receives that official approval letter from the FRA, trains will be sounding their horns at every crossing in town.
Renault said that the safety mitigation work currently underway, including the re-installation of raised islands on either side of the tracks, is on pace to be finished by Sept. 20. Once that work is done, the regional FRA representative will inspect it.
Renault said that the regional FRA representative was instrumental in getting the FRA’s Washington office to OK the interim compromise solution of allowing the crossing to open with train horns sounding.
Renault said that realistically, he anticipates at least a five-week period where every train will sound its horn at every crossing. He based that estimate on the fact that once the FRA finally issues its approval letter, there is then a 21-day appeal period.
Renault indicated that the individual at the FRA who approves Quiet Zones nationwide has a backlog of cases to work through.
During the public participation period at the start of the meeting, Plymouth Road resident John Natale spoke on behalf of residents of Broadway and surrounding streets about the months of hardship that the closed crossing has imposed on residents of the neighborhood. He talked about the frustration of hearing the same optimistic promises and expressions of sympathy at meeting after meeting, only to have hopes dashed every time.
Town Councilor Ann Santos said that she could appreciate the neighbors’ frustration, but called the proposed interim solution “an excellent tradeoff.”
Councilor Edward Dombroski agreed that the crossing needs to be opened up as soon as possible.
“I support this compromise,” he said.
Dombroski stressed that the town needs to make improvements at all of its rail crossings a priority. He said that the town has to find a way to fund sufficient safety measures that will get the town well within the FRA’s Quiet Zone safety standards.
“We can’t have a situation like this ever again,” he said.
Town Councilor Peter May agreed.
“The residents have suffered enough,” he said. “The compromise is a step in the right direction. Bring on the horns.”
The Broadway crossing was closed last year to allow National Grid and the town to do some needed infrastructure work. But when the work was done and the town sought approval from the Federal Railroad Administration to re-open the crossing, they learned that the FRA had deemed that the town was not in sufficient compliance with safety measures at its railroad crossings to maintain its “Quiet Zone” status.
Since last November, the only way for the town to remain under the threshold and keep its Quiet Zone status has been to keep the Broadway crossing closed.
Over the ensuing months, Town Engineer Bill Renault had been submitting proposal after proposal to the FRA for supplemental safety measures at various railroad crossings in town in an effort to get sufficient safety credits to allow the Broadway crossing to be re-opened. It has been a frustrating back and forth exercise as neighbors and residents have become increasingly impatient with the seeming lack of progress.
While not required for the reopening of Broadway, Renault has said that he plans to request funding at a future Town Meeting for the design and construction of quad gate systems at the town’s railroad crossings. Quad gates are a four-gate system designed to block all lanes of traffic on both sides of the track. Installing quad gate systems would bring the town well within the Quiet Zone threshold and help avoid future closures of crossings.