The transport ministry finally is putting in signals at railway grade crossings. The first two are in service, and transport officials are warning motorists of steep fines for failing to obey the flashing lights and bells.
Nearly nine years have passed since the valley train went back into service carrying passengers. That was in October 2005. Since then, the routes have been expanded. In 2009 the train to Heredia went into service.
All this time the grade crossings have been generally unprotected. A few rusty crossing signs remain from the time in 1996 when passenger service was terminated due to budget constrictions.
The crossing project has been in the works for some time, and was not initiated because there were three train-vehicle accidents in the last 10 days. In fact, since the beginning of passenger service every locomotive operated by the Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles has had at least one crash. There have been deaths, including that of a policeman and a woman pedestrian. The most recent death was that of a pedestrian who died on the tracks north of Mall San Pedro where the line crosses six lanes of the Circunvalación.
No one knows why the man did not hear or heed the train horn. That is the same place a tractor trailer collided with a train early March 4.
Consorcio Titán-Semex, the firm that also does work on the nation’s traffic lights, is in charge of the railway signs. None is a barrier that blocks the roadway as a train approaches. They are the red and white crosses with flashing lights and bells that usually are seen in rural areas in other countries.
The first two signs have been installed at Plaza González Víquez, adjacent to the offices of the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes.
Signals are supposed to be installed in a total of 29 locations soon. The job is directed by the ministry’s Consejo de Seguridad Vial. The locations for the signals are between Pavas and San Pedro and between San Jose´and Heredia, spots where there have been accidents.
The investment is 485 million colons or about $879,000, said the ministry. This expenditure is part of a larger plan to make the rail crossings safer. The total price tag is 2.5 billion colons, about $4.5 million.
The signals are supposed to activate when the train is 75 meters away, some 246 feet.
Traffic officials are quick to reject blame for the nine years of crashes and deaths. They blame the imprudence of motorists and pedestrians. They also are quick to point out that ignoring a rail signal can generate a 198,000-colons fine. That’s about $357. Some tickets already have been issued in the vicinity of the transport ministry offices.
Many of the accidents have been the result of motorists listening to music with the windows rolled up or listening to portable devices. Cell telephones also could have played a role in some crashes.