Red Light at Railroad Bridge? Idea Proposed

Laser beams may be installed to warn truck drivers about the low hanging bridge.

The Town of Westborough may be getting a new warning system to alleviate truck strikes at the East Main Street railroad bridge. According to Police Chief Alan Gordon, part of the $1 million in mitigation money granted by may be used to install laser sensors on East Main Street.

A proposal includes laser beams to stretch across the roadway between poles at the maximum height that a truck is able to clear the low hanging bridge. If a truck is tall enough to break the beam, a warning would activate and allow the driver to avoid a possible bridge strike.

“It might be in the form of a red light or a lighted sign that would tell the driver that the truck is too tall,” said Gordon. The specifics are yet to be determined, he said. A plan will be drawn up by engineers and put out to bid. Gordon said that it would probably not happen until next spring.

If the plan is approved, the warning lights would be installed far enough from the bridge to allow a truck driver to turn around without stopping the flow of traffic on East Main Street. Gordon said that would mean installing the sensor near the for eastbound traffic, allowing a truck driver to turn into Bay State Commons to reverse direction. Coming westbound, the sensor may have be placed before the location so that a driver could use Willow Street to turn around, Gordon said.

“The idea came from a high school student who studied this as a project a few years ago…the concept was great. He got an A on the project…My only concern is inclement weather.” Gordon said that he wants to know that heavy snow, for example, would not trip the device.

When asked about hanging metal warning chains or signs across the roadway that a high truck might bump as a warning of the upcoming bridge, Gordon said that was also a possibility. “That would be a more affordable solution,” he said.

Lowering East Main Street at the railroad bridge is not an option because of the water table at that location. Raising the bridge is cost prohibitive, he said, because it would mean replacing the tracks for a great distance in each direction to provide an appropriate grade for rail traffic.

The number of truck strikes at the railroad bridge has been going down in recent years due to the economy. Gordon said there are currently about five to eight strikes a year. He said the larger numbers of strikes in past years correlated to the increase in trucks doing business at E.L. Harvey. “We used to have many more cardboard haulers. They once frequented the town, heading to Canada, but they no longer come with the same frequency,” Gordon said.

Multi-language warning signs have also helped to reduce strikes.

Despite the reduction in collisions into the bridge, there is still a problem with turning trucks around at the bridge. It requires police assistance to stop traffic and allow the large haulers to backup on a main thoroughfare, which can cause traffic delays in both directions.

The bridge, currently owned by CSX, will change hands in the next year and half as it is turned over to the commonwealth as part of the CSX expansion.


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Chris Farmer November 10, 2011 at 12:46 AM
Great ideas. I have long been in favor of a beam, or lower cost solution. In the meantime, the Town could impose and post a steep fine ($5K-$10K) for each occurrence where a truck hits the railroad bridge. It will certainly get the attention of truck drivers - of all languages - and could help the Town pay for the cost of the height monitoring study and implementation.
Dee Dubleyoo November 10, 2011 at 06:32 PM
Good idea, Chris re: fines for such truck drivers. If it is clearly stated before you get to the bridge what the clearance is (and that measurement is accurate, there really is no reason for trucks to get stuck there. It's pretty simple. If the bridge is 12'6" and your truck is 13', you can't get through.
Gary Kelley November 12, 2011 at 02:37 PM
Trucks getting stuck is the most noticeable. There are many trucks making it to the Shell station, stopping, and then they BACK UP....either on Prospect or into the Bay State Commons entrance (they don't know they can circle around.) This happened twice this past week around 5AM, stopping East Main traffic for a bit. Lasers sound cool, except there is an ongoing power and maintenance cost. Chains are cheaper, although not the prettiest thing in the world. My sense is the signs have made a difference overall. It's good knowing folks are working the issue.


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