December 15, 2009
No one was hurt when a tour bus stuck on tracks was slammed by a train Tuesday morning in south Colorado Springs, but the crash has city engineers scratching their head about the dangerous crossing.
The crash happened just after midnight when a tour bus from California was headed south on Royer Street toward East Las Vegas Street, according to Colorado Springs police. The bus became stuck when it high-centered on the tracks on the steep slope just south of the crossing and was demolished soon after by the next train that came along.
The driver and two passengers got off the bus while waiting for a tow truck to pull it off the tracks. A train hit it before the tow arrived. The bus briefly caught fire after being hit by the train, which did not derail.
Unfortunately, vehicles getting hit by trains at that crossing isn’t unique. In 2005, two semi-trailers were hit by trains after getting high-centered there — one of them spilling 43,000 gallons of beer on the tracks. Since 1975, railroad records show there have been 24 other crashes at the crossing, making it one of the most dangerous in the state.
After the 2005 crashes, new signs were posted on Las Vegas Street with blinking lights that warned of the danger and barred vehicles longer than 55 feet from crossing. They seemed to be working. Until Tuesday, there were no new crashes or any reports of vehicles getting high-centered, said Dave Krauth, a city traffic engineer.
But signs didn’t help in this situation. Going south on Royer Street toward the crossing, there are no high-center warning signs and the 55-foot limit sign didn’t apply to the bus which Krauth said was 40 to 45 feet. Krauth said there were no warning signs because no vehicle has gotten stuck going south, and the tracks have never affected vehicles that weren’t tractor-trailers.
“I don’t know why all of a sudden this one vehicle had this issue in a direction we’ve never had,” he said.
Now, he says, engineers are back to the drawing board. Union Pacific Railroad officials had asked to close the crossing entirely after the 2005 crashes, but city officials decided to keep it open because its quick access to the nearby neighborhoods is benefit to emergency vehicles. But it won’t be an easy fix — it would cost $1.5 million to raise Las Vegas Street the necessary 4 feet. Krauth said more likely solutions would be barring all vehicles except for cars from crossing there or possibly moving the crossing to another street.
“We don’t’ want to do a $1.5 million fix and then down the road figure out we need a new crossing,” he said. “We want to do it right,” he said.
Call the writer at 636-0274.