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Boat access ramp closed in Halifax, but railroad crossing where new mom died remains open

HALIFAX—The Fish and Boat Commission closed its Halifax boat access ramp two weeks ago so it could evaluate the railroad crossing and intersection where a woman died in a train collision on Labor Day.

The move essentially closed the railroad crossing to the public since there would be no reason for the public to venture across the railroad tracks but for the boat ramp.

Still, drivers may not know the boat access ramp is closed until after they drive across the railroad tracks and down the road. It’s easy to miss the small “closed” sign that was attached to the Boat Access sign along Route 147 at Susquehanna Trail Drive.

A larger “closed” sign in orange has been ordered, said Eric Levis, spokesman for the commission.

“It will be placed near the road to make it easier for the public to see that the site is closed,” Levis said.

Levis declined to answer additional questions including what exactly the commission was studying at the crossing and intersection, how long the boat ramp was expected to be closed and whether any increased safety was being achieved by the ramp closure since the crossing remains open without any safety improvements.

The private crossing can’t be blocked because it provides access to several homes along the Susquehanna River, some only occupied seasonally.

The commission waited three weeks after Trisha Hoffman, 29, was killed at the railroad crossing before closing the boat ramp. She had used the ramp to access the river with her husband for a kayak float the day she died.

The railroad crossing has been criticized by experts who cited “serious deficiencies” and said it doesn’t meet national minimum safety guidelines for public crossings. Trees along the north side of Susquehanna Trail Drive block eastbound drivers from seeing oncoming trains. Drivers also approach on an incline, making the tracks even harder to see on the horizon.

There are no signs or markings at the crossing other than a single faded crossbuck sign on each side.

Safety guidelines say drivers traveling 10 mph should be able to see more than 700 feet down railroad tracks when they are 70 feet away from the tracks to be able to have time to react to an oncoming train and stop. PennLive measured the sight distance at this crossing, which allows eastbound drivers to see 227 feet down the tracks when just 30 feet from the tracks, because of overgrown trees and brush.

The sight distance is worse now than when it was when the commission first proposed improving the railroad crossing in 1978 for public use.

At that time, railroad officials recommended flashing lights at the crossing to alert drivers of oncoming trains to compensate for the poor sight distance. Stop signs also were promised to halt drivers before they crossed the tracks.

Instead, commission officials promised to cut back the trees 1,000 feet north and south of the crossing. It’s unclear if anyone was in charge of monitoring or maintaining the regrowth over the ensuing decades. The trees and brush now hug the road.

The Fish Commission has been cutting down trees at the boat access ramp in recent weeks, but not near the railroad tracks. Instead, the commission has been cutting down dead trees at the end of the road near the closed boat ramp.

The commission spokesman declined to explain why the commission was cutting down trees near the closed ramp while leaving trees untouched that block drivers’ view of oncoming trains.

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