A spokesman for the Canadian National Railway said the transcontinental transportation company is working to resolve problems with the Harlem Avenue grade-crossing gate, which has malfunctioned nearly two dozen times during the past 12 months.
Patrick Waldron, senior media relations manager for the railroad, said in response to an inquiry by the Landmark last week that the “CN is aware of the situation with the Harlem Avenue active warning devices and we are working on a solution to the issues that have been described.”
The assurance comes following a Jan. 25 letter, written by Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel to the Federal Railroad Administration, complaining about what he termed “an urgent public safety issue” regarding the Harlem Avenue crossing, which is located between 26th Street and Longcommon Road.
Between the beginning of 2015 and through January 2016, according to Weitzel, there have been 22 occasions where the Harlem Avenue grade-crossing gates have come down without a train passing through the intersection.
In the last week of January and the first week of February, Weitzel said, there were four such instances, one of them taking 90 minutes to resolve. Beyond the headaches the delays cause motorists, the gate closures affect emergency responses, said Weitzel.
“The intent of this letter is to notify you that some immediate action needs to be taken and a long-term solution addressed,” Weitzel wrote. “From a public safety standpoint, this is an emergency situation and a public safety issue.”
The public safety issue results from a directive Weitzel has given his officers to not go around the gate or attempt to force them open. As a result, if the officer is on the wrong side of the gates when responding to an emergency, the officer either has to drive into Berwyn or over to Westover Avenue to avoid the crossing.
Recently, said Weitzel there was a report of a fight at the 7-Eleven at 26th and Harlem where officers were delayed by downed gates. In those cases, Riverside police are instructed to contact North Riverside police to respond until they can get there.
According to Weitzel, the village experienced a similar problem with the grade-crossing gates back in 2012. He wrote a letter to the railroad at that time, complaining of 16 gate malfunctions in t he first four months of that year, resulting in traffic jams.
While that situation improved after the complaint, Weitzel said he was frustrated with a repeat situation and said, “Canadian National has not been that responsive.”
That prompted the letter to the federal railroad agency, which apparently has produced a response.
Weitzel said he received a recent visit from a railroad representative and on the afternoon of Feb. 5, a CN crew appeared testing the gate. Weitzel said that a railroad representative said road salt could be a factor contributing to the malfunctioning gates. But Weitzel wasn’t convinced.
“I can show them incidents in June, July and August,” said Weitzel. “And this has been a mild winter and we haven’t used a lot of salt. I believe it’s a major malfunction.”
Waldron told the Landmark that the Canadian National was working on a solution to the problem.
“We are conducting a full overview and investigation into what’s going on with the warning gates,” Waldron said.