COBWEB CORNERS: Rail crossings safer now

By Mel McFarland

       You can live here without driving over a set of railroad tracks! And this is a former railroad town!
       I have often written about the local railroads, but I had not really thought about the problem trains cause when they intersect with roads.
       Crossing signals and gates are fairly recent additions. A newspaper article from 1916 noted how often cars or wagons crossed railroad tracks in a day in El Paso County. The intent was to make people more aware of the dangers. The idea of actually stopping and looking, the way children are taught to cross a street, seemed to be forgotten when it came to driving over railroad tracks. The fact that there might not be a train for hours gives the impression that it it always safe, but it is not. Trains do make a lot of noise going up hill and you can hear them a long way, but downhill trains are quieter. Not only that, the early automobiles were a lot louder, so driver might not hear a train coming.
       It was not until after World War I that the railroads in this area started putting warning lights at grade crossings. To this day, people are still being hit by trains, and some very serious accidents have happened. School buses are required to stop at every grade crossing, signaled or not, because of the danger. Some trucks, depending upon what they are hauling, have to stop at crossings too.
       Most of the crossings in the 1916 story are gone, along with their tracks. In those days, Eighth Street was very busy because both the Rio Grande and the Midland crossed it, right next to each other. From there all the way to Manitou, the Rio Grande crossed at the end of every street up to almost 21st Street. From 22nd to 26th streets, the tracks were actually in the middle of the street. The line crossed Colorado at Adams Crossing and again just before reaching the Manitou station. The Midland crossed 21st and 25th, but in Manitou it traveled right up many streets.
       I would guess that the crossings at 8th were the busiest, even though it was no way as busy with cars as it is today. Our streets are certainly a lot safer without having to share them with trains.