Trains, trains and crossing arms in Kent | Guest op

Is there anything more frustrating than being stuck at a train crossing when there are no trains?

Very few things in my book are.

The Kent Downtown Partnership’s (KDP) office is located one-half block from the train crossing on Gowe Street, west of the tracks, a few feet away from Wild Wheat Bakery & Café. Therefore, we are very aware when the train crossing arms come down and fail to go back up.

Off and on we have had problems with the crossing arms getting stuck in the down position, but nothing like it has been like the weeks of March 20 and March 27. We have proactive KDP Board members, and they have been in constant contact with the city of Kent to figure out what can be done.

Note: Sometimes the crossing arms are not down on train crossings, a block or two away. Therefore, do not block the intersections as you may be able to turn down the street and get to the open crossings. Most importantly, be safe.

We need to understand that the railroad companies, like BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway) have very strict federal rules they have to follow, and cities don’t have regulatory authority over railroads or operational control over railroad crossings. For one, it is illegal for our own police, let alone a civilian, to raise the crossing arms to allow traffic to flow through until the railroad figures out why the crossing arms are stuck in the down position. The week of March 27, people waited for one hour and 40-plus minutes for the crossing arms to rise. That is too long to figure out what the problem is.

The city of Kent contacts BNSF and the Federal Railroad Administration during and after every incident and is as frustrated as we are about why BNSF isn’t able to fix the current problem. It is important to note that the major incidents between November and the present all had different causes, including a traffic accident on a spur in north Kent, copper wire theft, a “bad order” of trains, and an adjustment to the system’s sensitivity that didn’t work. The KDP is not making excuses for BNSF, but we are informing ourselves with the reasons shared.

The city has asked KDP to help notify city communications staff when we see that the crossing arms are once again, stuck in the down position so the city can promptly contact BNSF, FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) and advise the public via social media.

Please help the downtown merchants. The crossing arms being held in the down position is not the fault of our downtown businesses, but it does affect them financially. They could use your support by not giving up and coming back to downtown to do your shopping, dining and using the wonderful services we have in downtown.

We know the city is working hard putting pressure on BNSF to “fix the problem, now.” Feel free to call BNSF at 800-832-5452 and complain. Maybe we should consider calling the FRA too at 800-724-5998. With enough calls, maybe they can help BNSF move along faster to fix the problem before they ruin our downtown commerce.

Barbara Smith is executive director the Kent Downtown Partnership. She can be reached at 253-813-6976 or BarbaraS@kentdowntown.org.