Rail Crossing Study

This photo shows the rail cross at Columbia Boulevard and Highway 30.

Railroad crossing delays and safety impact all communities, businesses, residents, and visitors across Columbia County, a new study states.

The Port of Columbia County has scheduled a virtual question and answer session at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 16, to discuss the Columbia County Rail and Safety Mobility Study. The session will be held online through Zoom with phone in options.

Zoom Meeting Details

Background

Columbia County has grown and developed alongside the existing Portland & Western Railroad (PWR) rail line, which lies between and generally parallel to Highway 30 and the Columbia River throughout much of the 55-mile length of the County. From Dike Street in Scappoose to Woodson Road in Westport (west of the Clatsop/Columbia county line near this Clatsop County community), the PWR operates nearly 49 public at-grade crossings in Columbia County.

The Port of Columbia County and its partners, City of Scappoose, City of St. Helens, City of Columbia City, City of Clatskanie, Columbia County, Columbia Economic Team, Teevin Bros., Global Partners, and NEXT Renewable Fuels, have commissioned a study to conduct an evaluation of the existing conditions of the at-grade crossings within the Columbia County rail corridor from both the roadway and railroad perspectives.

The Port and its partners seek to build on prior studies to develop a list of top priority crossings and improvement concepts that can be funded for future design and construction.

This study provides stakeholder and community outreach to help facilitate acceptance and endorsement of the top-tier priority at-grade crossings and to guide funding decisions by the Port or its partners across Columbia County.

Priority Crossings For Safety and Mobility Improvements and Potential Solutions

Stakeholders offered a wide array of potential solutions for specific crossings and system improvements. These solutions can be categorized generally into nine themes or types. Specific crossings are identified where applicable.

Help make acquiring rail crossing permits easier, less costly, and less time-consuming.

Work with the railroad and other agencies to install a local or regional contact in the Pacific Standard Time Zone to assist in the rail crossing permit acquisition process.

When rebuilding intersections or upgrading rail crossings, coordinate with utility providers so they have the chance to bundle and expand services and infrastructure as necessary when construction work is already planned to occur.

Develop a new siding in the unincorporated county outside of city limits.

A new siding or yard will eliminate the need to use the undesirable sidings or yard in Columbia City, Scappoose, and most importantly St. Helens.

Discontinuing use of the St. Helens yard would alleviate most of the issues with the Gable Road crossing. Longer trains would no longer block the crossing when stopped, and trains would be able to move more quickly through St. Helens, decreasing waiting time at crossings.

Locating a new yard or siding in the county away from residents in the cities will reduce conflict as a result of noise, fires, mechanical works, and odor related to fuel or commodities.

Any new yard should be long enough to accommodate a full unit train (approximately 1 mile in length),so it can be broken down and inspected without stopping service on the main track.

Invest in better long-range planning.

Develop better traffic forecasting for 20-and 30-year planning horizons so appropriate infrastructure investments can be made early on.

Preplan for the next generation of modern, multimodal facilities.

Work to improve the three key components of railway maintenance and design: capacity, velocity, and reliability.

Consider bringing rail access to Scappoose Airport to support rail-to-air industrial activities.

Plan for the economy of the future and the future of freight transportation.

Support the Columbia River Crossing replacement.

Investigate the development of commuter rail from Columbia County into Portland.

Build a pedestrian bridge in Scappoose.

A pedestrian bridge in Scappoose was identified as critical by most stakeholders. The bridge should be located at High School Way and extend over both the railroad crossing and U.S. Highway 30 connecting to the west side of the highway.

A pedestrian bridge is seen as the safest and most desired solution for both pedestrians and drivers.

Build at least one grade-separated crossing in both Scappoose and St. Helens.

Grade-separated crossings were widely discussed by all the stakeholders as necessary for long-term viability of the railroad in the community.

Stakeholders prefer at least one in both Scappoose and St. Helens in centralized locations close to the heart of both driver and pedestrian traffic.

An underpass was suggested at Columbia Avenue in Scappoose. Other crossings identified by stakeholders as top priority for potential grade separation are Crown Zellerbach Road, High School Way, and Maple Street in Scappoose, and Gable Road in St. Helens.

Install better freight route and directional signage.

Multiple stakeholders advised that large freight trucks are frequently using less than ideal routes (like Old Portland Road in St. Helens) because their GPS or smartphone is directing the drivers without the understanding of difficulties on the ground.

Large, well-lit, and legible freight route signage was encouraged.

Install more crossing gates and lights in rural locations.

Complete a safety audit for rural crossings.

Install gates and lights on Graham Road in Prescott; it is home to an aging population.

Address the congestion related to school buses around the High School Way and Maple Street crossings in Scappoose.

This was mentioned by stakeholders as one of the most urgent needs. This would address the stopping of school buses at the tracks, not necessarily pedestrian crossings (stakeholders prefer a pedestrian bridge for those movements).

Work with the state legislature to issue a waiver for Scappoose School District so they can cross the tracks at High School Way and Maple Street without stopping.

Some communities on the east coast do this and use volunteer or paid flaggers to assist.

Stakeholders suggested this effort would have strong support from the school districts and the community but acknowledged there are a lot of moving parts to consider.

Lead in community-first programs.

Investigate the establishment of a quiet zone around the schools in Scappoose. Multiple stakeholders expressed concern over the consistent disruption to students and their academic success. Train noise in the middle school was described as “deafening.”

Initiate a public education campaign on “How to be Good Neighbors with the Railroad.” This would include multimedia education on the value of the railroad to the community and how to live with and cross the railroad tracks safely.

Hold the railroad accountable for cleanup of commodity spills and environmental degradation where they are responsible.

Continue and expand the port’s open communication strategy with the public.

Establish an online resource or mobile application that informs the public on the train schedules so they can plan around the delay and noise.

Invest in Intelligent Transportation Systems so commuters can respond to delay in real time.

What's next

The estimated cost of the rail safety and mobility improvements and the funding options are pending, according to the port report.

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