Technology that depreciates life – level crossing

Ramsbottom level crossing being opened to road...
One train, two trains..

I’m not sure that a railroad level crossing actually qualifies as a legitimate piece of technology. At some point in time (maybe the 1800s if I’m to use AMC’s Hell on Wheels as my historical reference) this piece of antiquated tech was considered actual technology as it prevented cars from mostly colliding with oncoming trains (except for the end of Back to Future 3) and so I suppose it still does but… WTF.

Scenario, I’m driving to work on potentially one of the worst traffic days in recorded history. Reason.. a city I live in is completely dependent on the smooth operation of a major highway which inbound suburban traffic to the city centre and some idiot crashes a truck into a bridge support closing off traffic at about 8am on I what I vaguely recall to be a Monday morning. So, traffic is crippled city-wide and I’m attempting to find the least aggravating method of getting to work in less than say 2 hours (compared to my regular commute of 45 minutes).

Somehow I manage to get through the worst of it, a few non standard deviations from my normal route and I’m surprisingly making great time, contrary to what I anticipated. That is until I come up to a railway level crossing about 7 minutes from my destination. As I’m approaching, I actually have the opportunity as the red lights flashing and bell ringing to get across but think, oh well, I should be law-abiding etc and I stop as the boom gates lower in front of my car. Unknowingly (as I’ve yet not been able to find a way of predicting the future), this is where I’m to spend the next 25 minutes in my car stationary (or is it stationery – seriously why does the English language need to have to have identically sounding words meaning different things?).

Why am I there for 25 minutes? I couldn’t really work this out either. My expectation of the duration of my stay at a level crossing is say 3 minutes, 5 tops with the need to give way to 1 train, 2 if you’re unlucky. So I’m sitting in my car, one train goes past and I think, good.. up you go boom gates, let me outta here. Nope, the lights keep flashing, bells keeps ringing and I wait for about 5 minutes, it’s a long god damn five minutes when you’ve got nowhere to go. Then another train from the other direction passes.. ok, fine.. up gates up? And still, nothing.

So my aggravation levels start to pick up and I’m thinking.. how many fucking trains do I have to wait for here and more importantly, can’t they lift the friggin’ gates and let the about 100 vehicles banking up behind me go past in between passing trains? This went on for 4 trains and and some pretty long intermissions. At this stage one starts thinking, the gates are broken as there’s no way that a intelligent system is keeping cars motionless for this long. So I call the number on the boom gates which says something along the lines of “in case of faults, please call blah blah and reference boom gate number XXX”.

Given I can’t fucking go anywhere i.e. down gates in front of me and about 5,000 cars behind me, I call the number. Get some guy on the other end and say, I think there’s a problem with boom gate XXX, I’ve been here for over 25 minutes and y’know, would like to get out of here. He replies, sir.. (I don’t like the sir when I’m pissed of, it’s not helpful, if I was really a sir I wouldn’t be watching me life pass before me for absolutely no reason) I don’t have any report of any fault at that particular gate. I reply (calmly), well about 4 trains have passed with some long gaps in between, surely that can’t be normal). Then he dares to respond.. actually sir, the gates are scheduled to be down to allow up to 5 trains to pass at this point in time, we appreciate your patience. WHAT, is planned and normal? Apparently it was as after the 5th train passed, the gate lifted.

So, moral of the story, when you think you’re getting ahead, don’t be so sure. Worst traffic day ever, clever driving which defies the odds as I near work and then, remain motionless because a stupid fucking train line crosses a major road that I happen be on.

Why can’t they bury all the god damn train lines that remain above ground, like in most developed cities in the world. This would never happen in Tokyo.


7 thoughts on “Technology that depreciates life – level crossing

  1. I know exactly what you mean. The most direct route for me to take to work involves crossing tracks and a lift bridge over a canal. To make matters worse, the trains have to cross a lift bridge over the canal right at a lock where the lakers and ocean-going vessels are travelling dead slow. So what sometimes happens is that the train’s front approaches its raised lift bridge but its ass-end is parked at the level crossing. Each boat takes about 20 minutes to clear the lock and it’s a two lane lock so you can have one boat entering one lock just as another boat is leaving the other lane so the wait can be, theoretically, more than 40 minutes.

    And the lift bridges are another nightmare. Only one of the four bridges I can take to work (with varying detour delay factors) have a signal warning that the bridge will be lifted in the next ten minutes so you have to commit to an approach that you might find already has a line waiting for the bridge to open again. And cars will line up past intersections and around blind corners, forcing traffic wanting to avoid the bridge to either wait a half hour or drive on the wrong side of the street… infuriating! Why don’t they just drive to the next bridge (5 minutes away) and avoid tying up traffic for a ½hour?

    Don’t people build tunnels anymore?

    • Damn.. canals? Ok, this totally doesn’t make me feel so bad. You’re so right about the tunnel thing – either put all the roads underground (expensive) or bury the trainlines. Now I’d like to see a ship sail in a tunnel. Thanks for reading.

      • Yup, canals. I live on the Niagara Peninsula with Lake Ontario to the north, Lake Erie to the south, and the Niagara River to the east (with the U.S. on the other side). Ships cannot navigate the Niagara River because of the falls, so there is the Welland Canal for Great Lakes and ocean-going traffic. Here’s what happens when you combine human error, lift bridges, and large ships… it happened at the next bridge south of where I live many years ago.

      • There are no cars on the bridge when the ships pass under. The roads are just a couple of feet higher than the water’s surface and when a ship approaches, boom gates block access to the bridge itself, and the road part of the bridge is lifted out of the way. There’s also a tall “skyway” that is much higher than any ship passing through and is unaffected by ship traffic.

        Thanks for giving me an idea for a post, but don’t expect it too soon. The canal has been drained for the winter and I’d kind of like to get some shots of it wet.

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