A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Adventures, sort of, at a grade crossing

Written December 8th, 2020 by Hasso Hering

A Portland & Western freight gets ready to cross Second Avenue on its way to the Albany yard on Tuesday.

Two things I had not seen before I happened to stop at the Second Avenue railroad crossing in Albany on Tuesday afternoon. One was the remarkable mural visible from the track. The other was the crossing gates coming down again and almost nailing a couple of cars after the train had passed.

You’ll see what I mean when you click on the five-minute video below. But turn down the sound or mute it altogether. Otherwise the warning bell will send you up the wall.

The freight was on the Toledo Branch coming across the river. It had been waiting for clearance to enter the Albany yard. Then, as you saw, it cleared the Second Avenue crossing and stopped again, to wait some more.

As soon the last boxcar cleared the crossing, the crossing arms went up and traffic on Second started moving. But a second or two later, the bells resumed their clanging, and the arms came down and stayed down even though the train had cleared the crossing.

The video stops eventually, but soon after it does, the gates did another shuffle step — up and down, almost clipping two vehicles that managed to get through.

I don’t know if this is a common occurrence at that crossing. If so, the sensors or electronics controlling the arms and the bells could use an adjustment.

And drivers, better wait a few seconds after the crossing arms rise. Make sure they’re going to stay up.

As for the mural right next to the track, it’s across Second from Cool’s Feed and Pet Supply. Next time I go in there for bid seed and suet, I’ll ask if they know anything about the colorful painting across the street. (hh)

Traffic waits on Second Tuesday afternoon while the gates are down even though the crossing is clear.

10 responses to “Adventures, sort of, at a grade crossing”

  1. c bell says:

    I couldn’t tell from the video, but according to the law, as long as those red lights are flashing, regardless of the position of the crossing gates, you’re supposed to stop at the limit line or at least 15 feet from the tracks. Where it gets unclear is, you’re allowed to proceed after stopping and looking both ways to make sure a train isn’t coming… even if the lights are flashing. In this case, maybe better to wait until the lights stop flashing.

    Now, as far as the equipment goes, there should be an adjustment to reduce the sensitivity of the train detection circuitry. I see lights flashing and crossing gates come down and back up intermittently when a “Hyrail” (service truck with train wheels) comes down the track. Why? because the “impedance” of the vehicle is higher than a train and confuses the train detection circuitry. Sort of a “I’m not sure if it’s coming or going scenario”.

    A UPRR signal tech once showed me the inner workings of a crossing gate control system. He told me to watch the meter as a train approached. The unit determined both the speed and distance of the train. When those parameters reached a predetermined figure, the lights start flashing and then the gates come down. There is a pause after the lights start flashing before the gates are lowered to give the motorist time to stop or pass through the crossing if there’s not enough time/distance to stop safely. That said, once the train has passed and/or stopped outside the train detection zone, the gates should go back up and when they’re “parked” in the full upright position, then the lights should stop flashing. In this case, I suspect the train was stopped while still in the detection zone and “confused” the detection circuit. Like I said, there should be an adjustment for that.

  2. Lindell Johnson says:

    Very interesting! The mural is very interesting and I’ve never seen it. Now I will be looking for it as we cross that railroad crossing.

  3. James Engel says:

    Aww trains. What red blooded American boy didn’t have a Lionel or American Flyer train set as a kid? Ya gotta admire the mechanical power of our present trains. Be patient, they to will pass.

  4. Parcella says:

    The railroad had to recently repair a cable that was severed in a middle-of-the-night truck crash into the low trestle on 1st. Maybe that’s related.

  5. K. Robb says:

    Dude, that mural is incredible! I’m always so excited to see art in Albany. ♡

  6. GregB says:

    One time about 20 years ago my crew was stringing fiber optic cable on our power line poles which parallels the old Oregon Electric Rail Tracks. At the crossing of hiway 34, it was a very foggy day and we were waiting for the fog to clear so we could string across the hiway safely. So…being bored, I decided to lay a ground rod across the rr tracks to see what would happen. Oh, I found out. The crossing arms came down. Panic. Lucky nobody ran into the crossing arms. Dumb thing to do.

  7. Monica says:

    I ran across this mural while on my bike. Even though I’d driven by it numerous times it’s almost impossible to see from a car because of the one way street.

  8. H. R. Richner says:

    Does it really take five engines to pull seventeen cars? Just thinking this may be a stupid question feeds my fascination with train stories. Thank you for telling them, Hasso.

  9. Evedene Bennett says:

    Haven’t you had the experience of the Queen crossing when they are shuffling the train cars? I’ve sat waiting as much as 15 minutes while it goes back & forth, back & forth. Each time with enough wait time that dozen cars could have got over the tracks, but I guess ithe train stops too close to the crossing to allow the automated system to lift up & let cars by. Either that needs to be altered, or a new crossing down a few blocks to get onto highway 99. I’ve asked my city councilman, but have not heard that it is being considered. There is so much traffic all the time there, many go down the mile or 3 to get out on the highway on 34th. A real hardship for those going straight across Queen.


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