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Close dangerous rail crossings, officials urge

Ask CSX Transportation officials why they want a railroad crossing in western Charlotte closed, and they'll tell you about an engineer who jumped from a moving train at Kenstead Circle.

The crossing in Paw Creek is that dangerous.

The engineer bailed because he feared a fiery collision. A fuel truck's tank was sitting on the tracks at the Kenstead Circle crossing, waiting to turn onto Old Mount Holly Road.

It wasn't an isolated incident in this busy industrial corridor, home to about 10 companies that sell gasoline and diesel fuel. Although trucks and cars are not supposed to stop on the tracks, it happens.

“That has created near misses,” said John Dillard, a CSX Transportation spokesman. “We're very concerned about a possible incident with a train and a gasoline tanker.”

The Charlotte Department of Transportation has been stepping up efforts to improve railroad-crossing safety in the city since 2007. CDOT worked with CSX and the N.C. Department of Transportation to develop a plan.

As a result, a crossing at Toddville and Rozzelles Ferry roads will be upgraded when funding is available, said CDOT transportation planner Tim Gibbs. The department plans to install a traffic signal, gates and warning lights.

CDOT plans to close the Kenstead Circle crossing and one nearby at Craig Street, where road conditions are so poor that motorists often switch to use Kenstead.

The crossings are expected to close in 2011. That's when CDOT expects to open a portion of Fred D. Alexander Boulevard.

The new two-mile, four-lane road would extend from Freedom Drive to Brookshire Boulevard.

Construction is scheduled to begin this year on a portion of it. The project calls for a bridge near the Craig Street crossing that would carry traffic over the railroad tracks.

CSX wanted to close the Kenstead crossing before 2011, but Paw Creek residents told CDOT in June the crossing is important for local traffic.

They asked the department to keep the Kenstead Circle crossing open until the bridge at Fred D. Alexander Boulevard opens.

The department is working on an interim solution to improve safety, Gibbs said.