Friday, March 2, 2012

How to close a crossing

A unique double level crossing in Collins Bay, Ontario existed until 1995 when the easternmost of the two level crossings, Hillview Road, was closed.  For the Kingston railfan (and some annoyed Collins Bay residents) the double crossing was remarkable.  Each train through Collins Bay whistled twice in close succession, so for miles around it was easy to ascertain how far away an approaching train was.  For the Township of Kingston, CN and local drivers, the dual crossings became a worsening headache.  Collins Bay Road (pink arrow, above) was an arterial road leading north from Bath Road (yellow arrow) to Highway 2 over CN's Kingston Sub (blue arrow). Hillview Road (red arrow) was a convenient crossing for Bayridge suburban residents, as the next road running north from Bath Road crossing the Kingston Sub was Gardiners Road at Mi 178.  This level crossing later became an underpass, and busy Gardiners Road was expanded from 2 to 4 lanes.
As early as 1991, Township staff were recommending safety improvements for the Collins Bay crossings.  A Transport Canada official noted that the crossing had the worst accident record of any on the CN mainline between Montreal and Toronto.  As a result, in 1991 Hillview Road was made one-way northbound, to eliminate southbound traffic stopping on or near the tracks, and a CN slow order was in place in case drivers didn't heed the changes.
By 1994 it had become apparent that north-south road traffic levels necessitated the construction of another crossing between Hillview Road and Gardiners Roads.  The Bayridge Drive overpass would cross the Kingston Sub and Bath Road, and would handle local traffic that was still using Hillview Road.
A CN Rule 42 foreman stationed at the Bayridge Drive overpass site cleared each train through the construction area during working hours.  Meanwhile, the Hillview crossing would close when the Bayridge  Drive overpass opened.  Extreme curvature of the trackage through Collins Bay and buildings in the line of sight meant a guessing game for head-end crews.  What if a vehicle was hung up on one of the approaching crossings, invisible to the onrushing train due to the 'blind' curve?  Zero reaction time - that's why they call it 'right-of-way'.
Cars waiting to turn north onto Hillview would often block the westward slow lane of Bath Road.  None is visible in this view of a westbound freight with its tailend beneath the Bayridge Drive overpass (above) behind 9637-2101-9591 on March 7, 1995. The unique angled signal equipment used the Hillview Road crossing is visible in this view of an eastbound VIA eastbound behind 6422, which is between the two crossings, having just crossed Collins Bay Road, on March 7, 1995. Horn blaring, echoing off the rear of the Becker's mall, ditch lights blazing along the track ahead, the crossing bells ring out a warning as red lights flash:  
Due the extreme angle of the crossing, the gate and warning lights were installed separately, so that the gate was perpendicular to the direction of road travel.  Notice the different orientation of the black shrouds over the red flashing lights.   Taken from alongside Bath Road on March 28, 1995 a westbound intermodal approaches the Hillview Road crossing from the east, led by CNNA 5353-LMS 719-5347:
CN Signals crews removed crossing signals in December 1995.  The severed crossing had already had a fence installed on the righ-of-way, and snowplow turning circle constructed north of CN's trackage.

In June 1996, CN crews descended on the former Hillview Road crossing, removing the last vestiges of the Hillview Road crossing, replacing rail sections at the former crossing location.
Subsequent whistling-ban attempts by NIMBY citizens (all of whom arrived in the area considerably later than Grand Trunk's building of the line in 1856) have been unsuccessful, largely due to the suboptimal sightlines in Collins Bay, the high speed of passing trains, and proximity to a mini-mall and elementary school along Bath Road in the area.  Road improvements to Collins Bay Road, right-of-way fencing, busing of students, and closure of private crossings in the area have mitigated many of the safety risks to road users.  On trips aboard VIA from Toronto to Kingston, if seated on the south side of the train, I always look for the fast-approaching green intermediate signal at Mi 179.6 as we pass Hillview Road - a home signal - close to home.

Running Extra...

A passage from the November 1995 BRS Branchline article "A Ride to Toronto":
There is an interesting crossing at Campbells Bay (sic).  This is close to an intersection with Highway 2 (sic) and vehicles occasionally back up on the crossing.  When the gates started to operate, the vehicles would be trapped with the potential for a collision.   Transport Canada worked with the community and now the road is one-way only from Highway 2, "We haven't had a close call at that crossing since the traffic patterns was changed", commented the crew.

Make this post multi-media: for some youtube recordings of VIA trains double-whistling through Collins Bay, click the link at the top of the right sidebar.  Kind of like being there in 1980.

Tim Horton's is now located at the west end of the Collins Bay mini-mall.  The glacially slow drive-thru lane is adjacent to the right-of-way fence! Note the message taped to the speaker, "In case of train, pull up to window to place order".  Inside, tables at the southwest corner offer a view of the Collins Bay Road crossing.  In other Kingston trackside coffee shop news, the Country Style bistro-deli (a.k.a. donut shop) at Canatara Court is slated to close, relocating to one of the apartment buildings currently under construction. Donut ask me when; the builders are frittering their time away and the hole project is on a break.


Bryan said...

Hi Eric,

Interesting post. I didn't move there until after this was all over; had no idea about this crossing even, but I imagine that spot would be traffic chaos.


Eric said...

Bryan, there's very little trace of the former crossing, so it would be difficult to imagine it having been there. Plus, Bath Road is quite a bit busier now, as the west end of Kingston, Westbrook and Amherst View continue to grow. I'm sure the CN and VIA crews don't miss it (although I do miss the extra 14(l).
Thanks for your comment,