Tuesday, August 30, 2022

MBTA Grade Crossings In Gloucester

In response to a request Sunday morning from Mayor Greg Verga, City of Gloucester, and others in the city who have contacted me regarding public safety concerns at MBTA commuter railway road crossings at Washington Street and Maplewood Avenue, I have been in direct contact with officials of the authority.

Following multiple points of contact with the MBTA this past weekend, and ongoing communications, I asked them first for an analysis of the crossing gate functioning and next for immediate action steps that can be taken based on that analysis. Today, I can now report that the MBTA is actively responding to the request, taking immediate action, and has provided me with a report relative to the situation.

First and foremost, we need to ensure that MBTA operations are safe for everyone they affect. That includes not only meeting all applicable state and federal standards but also ensuring that safety issues are identified and addressed quickly and efficiently.

I appreciate Mayor Verga and others raising concerns and sharing information about safety issues at the grade crossings, we will continue to remain focused on the issue. It is very important that anyone witnessing a problem at the crossings report their observation to the Gloucester Police Department and the MBTA, to facilitate a proper response and documentation of what has occurred. Below is the documentation that I received today from the MBTA.

Senator Tarr;
In May of 2022 service returned to the Newburyport/ Rockport branch of the Commuter Rail after over 2 years of construction. During construction several safety improvements were made, including some to grade crossings. These improvements changed how crossings operate, which has led to some concerns on
behalf of your constituents that the crossings are not functioning correctly.

First, thank you for your partnership in helping to raise public awareness about this new operation, and in assuring the public that these crossings are operating as intended. Crossing gates are a critical piece of our safety infrastructure and all crossings in our system are monitored closely and maintained regularly. They are designed to specifications from Federal regulation to keep everyone safe.

Given the ongoing concerns about the operation of the crossing at Washington Street in Gloucester, we are undergoing a process to change the crossing operations so that the crossing gates stay down for the duration of when a train is at the platform until the train clears the crossing, a significantly longer period than the current design. As part of this process, our engineers are developing a change proposal and analyzing the parameters of this crossing. Once this phase is complete, they will conduct full and detailed tests in the field before implementing new the crossing operations. We will notify you when this process is complete.

Below is an explanation of how the crossings are designed to operate currently.
Existing Operation:
• As a train approaches a crossing it engages the crossing gate system. First, lights flash and bells sound for 30 seconds before the crossing gates begins to lower.
• Crossings are designed so that the gates are down for the maximum amount of time before the train enters to the crossing.
• In a situation where a train stops at a station near a crossing, like the circumstances at Washington Street, the system will tell the gates to go down as the train approaches the station. This happens
regardless of if a train is going to stop at a station or continue through the crossing.
• When the train stops at the station, the gates will go back up allowing for traffic to flow through the crossing area and preventing frustrated drivers from going around the crossing gate.
• As the train begins to move from the station it triggers the system again, which begins the process of closing the gates.
• There are also operational rules for the engineer (the person driving the train), to ensure the gates are down prior to occupying the crossing. Trains move extremely slowly through these crossings
when leaving the station.
• Once changes are implemented, when trains stop at Gloucester Station the gates will stay down for the duration of the time the train is stopped at the station until it clears the crossing, a
significantly longer period than the current design.

There have also been some constituent concerns regarding what can be described as a “tail ring,” essentially the gates are going back down as the train pulls out of the station heading away from the crossing. Our engineers review telematics and conduct field investigations to determine root cause of tail rings. One common cause is that when a train releases its brakes after being stopped it can occasionally roll backwards a few inches before moving forward. This backward motion is sometimes enough to engage the crossing sensor and the gates will begin to lower. When a tail ring is reported or discovered in the crossing data, signal maintainers are dispatched to the crossing to adjust the sensors and correct the issue. In the case of the Washington Street crossing in Gloucester, a tail ring was identified on July 15, 2022, and a correction was implemented. This correction has significantly reduced the instances of tail rings at this crossing. Our team will continue to monitor and make any necessary changes. Please do not hesitate to reach out with any additional concerns. We look forward to your continued partnership.