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Downtown gates alert walkers to train tracks

Grand Forks pedestrians now have an extra layer of protection near the downtown railroad tracks.

Small swing gates were installed on the sidewalks about a month and a half ago near the crossings on South Third, Fourth and Fifth streets.

City Traffic Engineer Jane Williams said the 4-foot-wide gates are meant as a precaution to boost pedestrian safety.

"They are passive gates and all they are meant to do is alert people that the (train) rail is there," she said. "They're in the downtown area because that's where we have tracks that are somewhat obstructed by buildings. It's not like other places where you can see the tracks from miles away."

Williams said the decision to add the gates was not prompted by any collision. Rather, the gates just give people who might otherwise be distracted an extra reason to pause and think.

"It's pretty safe, but sometimes you want to take a proactive stance because we know there are distractions out there," she said. "It happens to everyone. You're walking and talking (maybe not looking ahead). When you get to the gate, you have to look up and make a decision. It's just enough to make you think."

No whistles

Williams said the city also is a quiet zone, so trains don't sound their warning whistles when coming through town.

Other cities have installed even more complex safety systems — for instance, gates that require people to open and close them as they walk through. In Fargo, "maze" gates require pedestrians to walk back and forth to amplify alertness. Williams said those gates require more space, however, and sometimes cause problems for bicyclists with trailing baby carriers.

Trains also move through Fargo at a much faster clip, she said. Train speeds there are as high as 60 mph. In Grand Forks, the speed limit is 25 mph.

"In Grand Forks you should be able to get to the track and see where the train is. There's not going to be something whizzing by," Williams said. "The gates are not a restriction or anything other than a visual cue that there is something there and you need to look at it. You either have to push the gate to walk through it or you have to walk around it. You have to make a conscious effort to do that."