North Sound cities meet with state leaders about improving dangerous rail crossings

North Sound cities say rail traffic is more than just an inconvenience -- it’s a safety hazard for first responders.

Tuesday, half a dozen city leaders talked to the state’s Joint Transportation Committee about how to lessen the impact of rail traffic on road traffic -- but the cost is outrageous.

Burlington, Washington’s, roots run along the rails; with 16 crossings in about 4 square miles, they’ve pretty well had to embrace it or move.

Nick Crandall chose the former -- he opened a restaurant.

“People like it -- when the train goes by, it kind of rattles the building and people get excited,” he explained, talking to us outside Train Wreck Bar and Grill, just feet from the tracks.

Train Wreck has been so successful Crandall is getting ready to open another, this one called Railroad Pub and Pizza. But Crandall understands while the backup in Burlington helps him sell burgers and beers, it can be dangerous.

Burlington’s police and fire services can effectively be trapped by trains.

“We do have a situation where an oil train for example can corral our emergency responders to one quadrant of the city and really leave three quarters of city vulnerable in an emergency situation,” explained Marv Pulst, director of Burlington’s Public Works Department.

Pulst, along with other North Sound city leaders, spoke to the state’s Joint Transportation Committee meeting in Everett about the issue.

“My intent was to really explain what impacts our citizens every day,” said Jill Boudreau, the mayor of Mt. Vernon.

Boudreau says the impact is significant traffic delays; she brought along a chart that shows in a 24-hour period some of crossing guards are down for more than an hour.  The solution -- for almost every city -- is the same.

“What we would like to see is another overcrossing or undercrossing somewhere north of the city,” said Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring.

"We honed in on where an overcrossing would be the solution,” seconded Pulst.

“Maybe an overpass or an underpass, we don’t know yet,” agreed Boudreau.

Grade separation is costly; Marysville was lucky to secure money from the most recent legislative session, but it’s just for one crossing -- and it’s a $50 million project.

Tuesday’s meeting was a chance to secure funding in the future. In the meantime -- at least in Burlington -- people stuck in train traffic have a place to pass the time.