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South Deerfield to get railroad upgrades

SOUTH DEERFIELD — The railroad crossings that intersect Elm and Pleasant streets may get new gates, bells and lights by spring 2014 as part of the state’s project to restore 24 crossings.

On Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., the state Department of Transportation will present design drawings for re-configured rail crossings on Elm Street in the center of South Deerfield and on Pleasant Street by the Deerfield Elementary School.

The changes do not require Board of Selectmen approval. The meeting is informational.

The two grade crossings are part of a six New England-state initiative to restore Amtrak’s intercity passenger train service to its original route by relocating the Montrealer from the New England Central Railroad back to Pan Am’s tracks through Whately, Deerfield and Greenfield. The project would expand the intercity passenger rail service in the Interstate 91 corridor, between White River Junction, Vt., and New Haven, Conn., with stops in Northampton and Greenfield.

The proposed crossing improvements are designed to improve safety as faster passenger trains begin using the tracks, according to the proposal by HDR Engineering Inc. of Boston. It would cost about $450,000 to upgrade each crossing, which is funded by the Federal Railroad Administration.

Both crossings would see roadway and signal system improvements as well as sidewalk extensions to provide a clear pedestrian path through the crossings.

Currently, Elm Street crosses three tracks, with street parking and sidewalks on both sides of the street on either side of the tracks. There are several business driveways in the vicinity.

The Elm Street crossing is proposed to feature a 20-foot-wide eastbound travel lane, a 12-foot westbound travel lane and a six-foot sidewalk on each side. Raised center islands would channel traffic through the crossing and control turning movements.

The Pleasant Street crossing is a single-track crossing in a residential area near the Deerfield Elementary School to the east. Active warning signals include an eight-inch flashing light and bell.

Because the road leading to the crossing is steep on both sides with a short curve on the tracks, crest curves would be added to the crossing to provide a smooth transition to the road.

The existing signal system on both crossings would be upgraded to meet current design standards. Flashers would become 12-inch LED bulbs. At the Elm Street crossing, LED lights would be added to the automatic gates and a pedestrian gate was added to both the northwest and southeast sections of the intersection. At the Pleasant Street crossing, gates would be added to both approaches. While a single gate would be used to protect vehicular and pedestrian traffic on the west end, only a pedestrian gate would be added to the sidewalk on the east side.

Both crossings would also see 6-foot sidewalks with curbs. At the Elm Street crossing, there would be a new dedicated pedestrian path across the crossing and wheelchair ramps would be added at any spot where the sidewalk crosses the railroad, a driveway or intersection. For the Pleasant Street crossing, the sidewalk and curb would create a safe pedestrian path from the Deerfield Elementary School to the residential neighborhood on the opposite side of the crossing.

Work is expected to start this year if weather permits.

The project is expected to be complete by spring 2014.

Right now, the two South Deerfield crossings and tracks are used by freight operators traveling 10 mph. In the future, both freight trains and passenger trains like Amtrak would use the tracks. The crossings are being restored to handle higher speed trains. MassDOT did not have exact speeds some trains could travel through town.

The two crossings are among 24 to be upgraded by the state from Springfield to the Vermont border.

The state is also working to upgrade the crossing at Egypt Road in Whately, which will see new gates, flashing lights, audible warning devices and pavement after the Board of Selectmen gave its blessing to the project despite some opposition from neighbors.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at: kmckiernan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 ext. 268.

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