Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

Kensington wants train station signal on before Labor Day

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Kensington residents and officials are hoping that a new pedestrian crossing signal at the town’s MARC train station will be activated for the annual Labor Day festivities on Sept. 3.

But Maryland Transit Administration officials are not sure when the warning signal, installed in April, will go live.

‘‘We are aiming for Labor Day, but we aren’t too sure of that,” said Cheron Wicker, an MTA spokeswoman.

She said CSX Corp., which owns the railway, is testing the new warning signal, and that process takes time. CSX officials want to test the alert system thoroughly before activating it.

With the new system, trains approaching a station are detected by the signaling system, and that information is relayed to the alert signal.

‘‘It happens very fast,” Wicker said.

The timing and information relay between the tracks and the station need more testing before MTA and CSX will sign off on it.

‘‘Neither system is operational yet,” Wicker said. ‘‘That’s not to say that it’s not working, it’s just that they are not ... turned on yet.”

Real locomotive engines, not simulations, are needed to test the system, which alerts pedestrians at the station of oncoming trains.

‘‘We did testing over two days in July, but we can only test during certain times,” Wicker said.

Trains approaching both the Kensington and Rockville stations are faced with dramatic curves in the track, and the new system is meant to warn people that a train is coming.

‘‘It’s hard to hear a train when it’s coming up on you for some reason,” Wicker said. ‘‘It sounds a bit funny, but that’s with any train.”

Kensington Town Councilman Al Carr said the town wants the signal turned on as soon as possible, but definitely for the Labor Day festivities.

‘‘That’s the main place people cross between the north and south sides of town,” Carr said. ‘‘The Labor Day parade does see a lot of traffic there, and we want the state and CSX to ensure the safety of the pedestrians and residents.”

Carr said several residents are concerned that the alarm will not blend in with the historic feel of the Kensington station and will make too much noise.

The nearly $166,000 light is much louder and attracts more attention than a typical yellow sign with flashing lights, Wicker said.

But mostly, Carr said, the town just wants the signal up and warning.

‘‘It feels like a couple of years, although I’m sure it’s been months, but it seems like a long time,” he said. ‘‘The state came in and built signs and signals, and they’ve been under wraps since then.”

The first Passenger Train Warning System was installed at the Germantown MARC station in 2004, Wicker said.

The system is similar to pedestrian crossing signs at city intersections that flash ‘‘Walk” and ‘‘Don’t Walk” messages, according to MTA officials. The alerts in Kensington and Rockville feature flashing lights and an alarm to grab pedestrians’ attention, as well as a display under the flashing lights that shows if one or two trains are approaching.

Work began in 2006. Point of Rocks is among the MARC stations expected to get the next batch of alerts.

An MTA traffic study found that the curves at Rockville and Kensington required extra safety measures, Wicker said.

No one has been hit or killed by a train at the Kensington station, but a woman was killed by a train near the Rockville station this year. A train did derail in 2002 near Summit Avenue and Plyers Mill Road, not far from the Kensington station.