MARTINEZ -- City Engineer Tim Tucker's update on Union Pacific Railroad's Ferry Street rail crossing work rekindled expressions of sympathy over the tragic death of Martinez Junior High School student Jenna Betti, and turned the March 5 City Council discussion to rail safety.
Jenna died March 2, when she was struck by a train on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway tracks. She and another person got up to leave as the train rounded a curve near Howe and Old Orchard roads, but Jenna returned to the tracks, possibly to retrieve her cell phone.
In light of the tragic accident and before the meeting, Councilman Mark Ross had asked Tucker to check on the accident, fencing and the train tunnel near the Muir Trestle as well.
There are gaps along the Burlington Northern Railroad route fences near the Tower Mart gas station center and near Howe Road, and near the Muir Station Shopping Center and at the tunnel. Vandals have cut or bent down fencing intended to keep people off the tracks, according to Tucker.
"We just approved a large project with homes right across from it (the tunnel) ... We need bigger and better barriers," Ross said.
Council members made suggestions that might help avoid future train accidents in Martinez where there are at least four grade level crossings and more than 60 trains a day passing through.
Acknowledging that it is impossible to completely secure the tracks, Councilman Mike Menesini suggested signs that are "really stark" yellow, red ... educational signs warning of extreme danger.
the council supported the idea of a new emphasis on education by Amtrak, the railroads and in schools.
On the Ferry Street crossing, Tucker reported that Union Pacific Railroad wants to close it for 24 hours per day for five days to completely reconstruct it.
Expressing a sense of urgency, Menesini said, "The tracks that scare me the most are the Ferry Street tracks. I see kids and adults trying to race the train across the street.
Calling the Ferry Street crossing an "enormously dangerous situation" he suggested that Tucker explore the possibility of Union Pacific help with funding for the construction of the alternative crossing bridge off Berrellesa Street.
Mayor Rob Schroder asked Tucker about the city's quiet zone plans to improve safety in order to reduce the need for so many train horn warnings. Those plans include an above grade vehicle and pedestrian bridge from Berrellesa Street across Alhambra Creek to a new Intermodal parking lot on the north side of the Union Pacific tracks.
They also include an overhead pedestrian bridge directly connecting that parking lot to the Amtrak station, and realigning the Ferry Street entry to sports complex property creating more of a "T" shape, Tucker said.
Tucker said other safety measures could include two quad gates, meaning mechanical crossing arms that would drop down on both sides of the tracks at Ferry and Berrellesa streets, and a raised median (bump) in the paving to discourage drivers from attempting to beat the train by driving around the end of the gate arm. Those measures do not qualify for the use of Measure J funding.
Interim City Manager Anna Gwyn Simpson ended the discussion with a formal expression of condolence to the Betti family on behalf of the city, noting that pink ribbons placed on Main Street, at City Hall and worn at the Martinez Youth Baseball and Softball parade would be in remembrance of Jenna.
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