Many citizens want crossing to stay open

Linda DeSeau, of Webb Street, is no fan of city officials closing the Howard Street railroad crossing in Newberry.

DeSeau was one of the majority who made it clear they want to keep the street open during a town meeting with railroad and city officials Tuesday night.

The city Public Safety Committee recommended the city temporarily shut down Howard Street for 90 days as a trial to evaluate the impact of train horn noise on residents after several residents approached the committee. That’s only a recommendation and would require a vote by the full City Council, according to Councilman N. Clifford “Skip” Smith, chairman of the committee.

It ultimately would require two readings by council and removal of the crossing, which would require approval by the Public Utility Commission, according to John Grado, city engineer and director of community and economic development.

“There’s plenty of large and public steps that would require several months,” he said.

Terry Roller, CEO and president of STEP Inc., said closing the street would pose more than inconvenience to customers and clients – it would be a risk to those who are wheelchair bound.

The facility has a senior center and people walk to get there using the street

“I have no problem with the trains, but I don’t want to see the street closed,” DeSeau said, expressing fear the impact of closing, even temporarily, would have on firefighters having access to the West End neighborhood.

City Assistant Bureau of Fire Chief Dave Dymeck said he and Fire Chief C. Dean Heinbach both recognize the street as an artery in and out of Newberry.

As a public safety concern for access by engines and firefighters to structure fires, it was a no-brainer for Dymeck and Heinbach.

“It’s not the best area for hydrants already,” Dymeck said. “The more access (for emergency vehicles) the better for us,” he said. River Valley Transit also supports keeping the street open and won’t sign off on the temporary closure.

“If you close Howard Street, are you going to bring Depot Street up to standard,” said LaRue Meyer.

“I knew the railroad engineers growing up,” said Wendy Baker, of Trenton Avenue. Baker works on Reichard Avenue and uses the road to get to her job. She said the railyards are active again and that means improved local incomes and jobs remaining in the area.

Gary Shields, president of the Lycoming Valley Railroad, said engineers by federal law are required to blow their engine horn every time they approach a road crossing with two longs, a short and a long sound.

Closing the street also might end up diverting more traffic onto other crossroads such as Depot and Arch streets, which also have railroad crossings.

Kevin Lynch, director of engineering at Brodart, said the amount of traffic on Arch Street has increased and his concerns lie in the parking lot employees must reach by crossing the street.

“Some people don’t move very quickly,” he said.

Jeff Stover of SEDA-Council of Governments Joint Rail Authority, said options exist but there are costs associated.

One of the options is a “wayside horn,” which is an addition to the flashing light a system that activates a horn at the crossing and not on the train and another option is a quiet zone, a luxury that must be approved by the administration and is expensive.

Jerry Walls of the authority said in an old Williamsport Area Transportation Study indicates there may be an ability of the regional powers to obtain grants and funding for quiet zones but they are estimated to cost $150,000 per crossing. That would be about $400,000 to $500,000 for the three crossings. The quiet zones have an additional set of gates that close the entire crossing, according to Stover. The zones also put in barricades to prevent crossing.

Smith said the city hasn’t any money for either wayside horn systems or quiet zones.

Councilman Don Noviello said the issue came before the committee by citizens with concerns about the constant noise of the horns and railyard activities. He said they were courteous and came with their ducks in a row with their complaints and the committee was obliged to listen to them.