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Rail work part of crossing-safety program

I've seen railroad crews working on the tracks to the north of downtown Medford this week. Didn't Central Oregon & Pacific Railroad just reopen the line between here and California? Are the tracks worn out?

— Sandy T., Medford

It certainly looks like there's some serious heavy-metal activity on the railroad near Pallet Wine Co. We checked with Oregon Department of Transportation railroad people, who told us the long-promised crossing-safety work has begun.

When crossing signals and safety arms are installed, it involves more than simply setting up light towers and those folding arms.

To make the signal systems work efficiently, it requires replacing existing rail sections that trigger the electronics as trains draws near, said Rick Shankle, manager of ODOT's crossing-safety unit.

As a train approaches a crossing, anywhere from a quarter-mile to a mile away, it trips a circuit breaker, activating the electronics within the signal cabinet. That sets off a sequence in which lights start flashing, and the gate arms are lowered and put in place well before the train rumbles past.

Rails typically are 39 feet long and pieced together with joint bars and bolts.

"With a jointed rail system, you have to have a wire welded in between each of the different rails, and that's easy for vandals to break," Shankle said. "It's a maintenance nightmare and safety issue. It's far more effective to put in a solid stick in either direction."

ODOT funneled federal funds to CORP to help pay for the upgrade.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. To see a collection of columns, go to mailtribune.com/youasked. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.