Great Barrington resident recounts near-miss with train at unprotected crossing

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GREAT BARRINGTON — The nose of Camille Stanton's car was nearly over the railroad tracks when she lost her radio signal.

That day last fall, when the music died for two seconds, is the reason she survived her drive home.

"I was about to cross the tracks, and [I was] listening to the radio and lost the signal, and that's when I hear the horn of the train," she said. "And because of that, I was able to brake."

Stanton, 25, lives on Railroad Avenue, a dirt road along the railroad tracks on the western hill of Main Street's north end. Its only access is from High Street, a steep, narrow road that crosses the state-owned tracks. But on High Street, there are no gates or lights — what in the railroad business are called "protections" or "warning devices."

And there aren't any plans to install such devices any time soon, according to state transportation officials.

Stanton explained that, when about to cross at the upward incline, she also was faced with bushes to her right that obstructed her view. That's when the southbound train operated by Housatonic Railroad Co. nearly took her out.

"But even without those bushes, you wouldn't be able to see much because of the angle on the hill," said Stanton, who has lived on this hill most of her life. This was the most recent scare in her memory, though there might have been other less-dramatic moments over the years with Housatonic Railroad Co.'s freight trains, which pass through town several times a day.

The Berkshire Line was purchased from the company in 2015 by the state, with the aim of possibly restoring passenger service from New York City to Pittsfield, and to bolster freight commerce through the south-to-north corridor that begins in Canaan, Conn., and ends in Pittsfield.

While passenger service appears a long shot at this point, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation has begun the early stages of a $21 million overhaul to the infrastructure that will make for a safer and more robust system.

But the DOT doesn't have plans to add equipment to this crossing, spokeswoman Judith Riley said in an email.

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"MassDOT continues to use specific criteria to rank rail crossing locations statewide that have been identified as needing time-sensitive safety improvements, and as warranted, will conduct further review of additional locations," Riley wrote.

An attorney and spokesman for Housatonic Railroad said the company wants a safer crossing.

"If asked, we would recommend that gates and lights be put there," said Edward Rodriguez. "We'd like to see it happen."

Town officials say they haven't received any complaints about the crossing.

A national nonprofit group, devoted to educating the public about how to drive safely near crossings, says drivers should always assume that a train is coming, and stop before tracks, look both ways and quickly cross the tracks.

"Always expect a train," says the Operation Life Saver website. "Freight trains do not follow set schedules."

It also says to keep a distance of at least 15 feet from any rail.

Dana DeLorenzo, the organization's Massachusetts coordinator and president who also is a state transit police officer, said she travels around the state to educate groups about crossing safety.

For Stanton, her close call taught her to look and listen.

"If you have your music on, the only way to know the train is coming is if you hear it," she said.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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