Olentangy Valley News

Police keeping watchful eye on problematic train crossing

Police chief: Drivers who stop on Powell tracks may be cited

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On Nov. 27, a driver crossing the train tracks on Powell Road found himself in a treacherous position.

According to Powell police reports, the driver failed to obey the signs that warn against blocking the tracks. When a train approached and the gates began to lower, the driver pulled his car onto the sidewalk to get out of the way, striking the pedestrian gate in the process.

It's an all-too-familiar situation for Powell police.

Now, Powell City Council is trying to find a way to keep vehicles off the train tracks where they intersect Powell Road west of the Four Corners intersection.

Eastbound vehicles currently have the option to turn left on Depot Street, just east of the tracks, except between 4 and 7 p.m.

With the increase in Powell traffic over the last few years, drivers often find themselves stuck on the tracks when they expected to make it across.

Police Chief Gary Vest said something must be done about this problem.

"Very good drivers can inadvertently get stuck on the tracks because they're not waiting for clearance on the other side," Vest said. "When you approach a railroad track, the law requires enough clearance for you to get to the other side. People get complacent and follow the car in front of them."

In the Nov. 27 incident, the driver was able to escape injury, but Vest said a less-alert person -- or one with bad luck -- could have led to a tragedy on the tracks.

"If someone were on the tracks between two trucks, the chances of them getting out would be slim," he said. "If someone had just gotten scared and frozen up, they would've been hit. If someone were sitting on the tracks texting, they would hear the horn and that would be the last thing they heard."

At the moment, Vest and the police department are trying to be vigilant in watching the area, he said, though he knows it's not a permanent solution.

"The police department is literally spending this next month stopping anybody who gets stopped on the tracks, period," Vest said. "Because of the increased traffic, we're going to stop and warn them to raise awareness for the problem. Repeat offenders might be cited. If they have no previous violations, we'll try to give them a warning."

Vest said people who make illegal left turns and cause the backups initiate the problem, but added pulling over the people who stop on the tracks is important as well.

"Most officers feel the way I do, that the more-serious violation is the left turn," he said. "But ultimately it is the driver's responsibility on the tracks to make sure they have a clear path."

A permanent fix, Vest said, would be to do away with left turns onto Depot Street permanently.

"There's just too much traffic there," he said. "You have something like Zoolights (Wildlights) going on and its late-night traffic and there's turns going on -- someone is going to get stuck on the tracks."

Vest noted that while the driver of the train is paying attention, it wouldn't be his or her fault if a car were struck on the tracks.

"It takes that train nearly a mile to stop," he said. "As much as they want to get stopped, there's nothing they can do if you're on the tracks."

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