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Railroad Gate Had Been Planned at Site of Fatal Louisville Crash


State funds had been set aside months ago for the installation of a gate at the Louisville railroad crossing where two local teens died, and two others were critically injured in a crash last weekend.

Currently, the railroad crossing at Buechel and Crawford avenues has flashing lights, but no gate.

A video of the accident shows the car driven by the teens attempting to cross the tracks as the warning lights flashed. A train collided with the vehicle.

About $260,000 in federal funds were allocated in December for the gate, according to Chuck Wolfe, spokesman for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

Wolfe didn't know when the gate would be installed. That task falls to rail company Norfolk Southern, which has yet to submit a final plan and cost estimate for the gate, Wolfe said.

Norfolk Southern spokesman Dave Pidgeon acknowledged the company has the responsibility to "install, maintain and operate those warning devices."

It's a process that varies in the length of time it takes to complete.

Pidgeon declined to comment on where the railroad company stands on submitting a finalized plan and cost estimate to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

The installation plan must be submitted and approved within a year, or the funding gets pulled, according to Wolfe.

In the last 40 years, officials have tallied six incidents at the Buechel and Crawford avenue crossing, Wolfe said. One injury was reported prior to Friday's fatal accident.

There are about 200 grade level railroad crossings in Jefferson County, said Andrea Clifford, spokeswoman for Kentucky Transportation Cabinet's 5th District, which includes Jefferson County.

Of those, 93 have crossing gates installed to block traffic when trains approach.

Wolfe said the Federal Railroad Administration provides guidance to state officials for installing safety measures at rail crossings.

"There's not a specific vehicle volume, there's not a specific train volume, there are not specific crossing characteristics, but those are factors that get entered into the formula," he said.

Other factors include existing warning devices, approximate speeds of both trains and vehicles, physical characteristics of crossing and the history of accidents at the specific crossing, Wolfe said.

He said if a crossing has a low traffic volume and a historically low number of reported accidents "there wouldn't be a crying need for gates."

Wolfe said the transportation doesn't have a preference regarding installing gates or not.

"The funding is not unlimited," he said. "You want the money to go where it's most needed."

Jacob Ryan is an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.