We have received many comments and questions related to the rail crossing at Lamar and Airport. Some people report getting stopped at a red light as the gates descend, but no train appears. Others report being held up longer than usual at these intersections. We want to explain why this happens –it’s complicated!
Q: Why do the crossing gate arms activate when there appears to be no train?
A: While they may appear to be malfunctioning, the crossing gate arms at Lamar/Airport are actually functioning correctly when this occurs. The crossing arms are triggered by electrical current flowing through the tracks. Due to the unique placement of the Highland and Crestview MetroRail Stations (approximately one mile apart), and the maximum allowable train speed through the area, signals can be triggered at one station which activate the gates at the other.
Although you may not see the train crossing Lamar when the crossing gates are down, what is likely happening is a northbound train is in the process of de-boarding passengers around the corner at the Highland Station, triggering the crossing arms to lower at Lamar. When this occurs, the waiting time is typically two to three minutes at the Lamar/Airport intersection.
In addition, Capital Metro does regular maintenance inspections of the tracks, which requires us to send special vehicles to drive along the rails in a testing mode. These vehicles can also trigger the crossing signals and may cause gates to be lowered for a longer period of time, due to their slower operating speed as compared to trains.
We encourage you to report any out-of-the-ordinary crossing gate activity by calling 1-800 772- 7677. Be sure to provide the unique crossing identifier listed on the sign when you call.
A: The technology in place is actually working to keep you safe. While it may hold you up a few minutes longer, it’s an important function of the rail system.
When trains pass through intersections that are “at-grade,” or at the same level as roadways, special systems and regulations are in place to keep motorists safe. Regulations require crossing signals to activate a minimum of 20 seconds before a train enters an intersection. Capital Metro triggers this system a bit more ahead of time (about 25-30 seconds in advance) for added protection).
Our system is also designed to ensure the intersection is clear of vehicles and pedestrians before crossing gates activate. To make sure this happens, the traffic signals at the Lamar intersection may change “out of sequence” so that traffic is not backed up across the tracks when a train is approaching. So, you may encounter signals beginning to change to red to clear the intersection up to two minutes before the crossing warning system starts. This is called the traffic signal preemption period.
In addition, motorists may experience gate arms lowered for a longer period of time due to the rail line having trains that stop at stations, and some that do not (freight trains, for example). As a train approaches a station in close proximity to the intersection, current flows through rails to tell the crossing arms that a train is approaching the intersection. The system, as currently designed, does not distinguish in advance if a train will be stopping at the station or passing through the station without stopping.. Therefore the crossing warning systems treat every train as if it were passing through the station without stopping. This results in a longer warning time for trains that do stop at the station. For example, as the system is currently configured, a train heading southbound approaches the Crestview Station, and the traffic signal preemption and the crossing warning system at Lamar / Airport start as if the train will not stop at Crestview. The crossing warning system continues in the activation mode during the entire time the passengers are getting on and off the train stopped at Crestview.
While these are valuable features that are functioning properly to keep us all safe, we know that the delays to motorists can be frustrating – these delays impact our MetroBus and MetroRapid services on Lamar too. So we are looking into ways to reduce the amount of time gates are down for trains that are stopped at the station.
A: We’re already on it! Our rail operations team is aware of the unique situation at the Lamar/Airport crossing, and is working toward implementing technology changes to minimize the amount of time crossing gates are down, while ensuring that motorists are safe. The improved system could help identify whether a train is passing through or stopping at the station to pick up passengers. This will help reduce the amount of time that gates are down. Our Rail team has tentatively scheduled testing of some changes for this winter. While this testing is occurring, you may experience some other unusual gate activity. We will try to keep you informed of our progress to improve this crossing.
Capital Metro appreciates your patience while waiting at the Lamar/Airport intersection crossing. If you have additional questions, please feel free to call our GO Line at (512) 474-1200.