Safety improvements recommended for Gaithersburg MARC station

September 20, 2011

The Gaithersburg commuter rail station needs updated signs, more outdoor shelters and more barriers to improve pedestrian safety for passengers who must cross the tracks to catch inbound trains, according to a Maryland Transit Administration safety assessment released late Monday.

MTA officials conducted the safety study in May, following the January death of 81-year-old James T. Clemons, who was hit by a morning Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) train as he crossed the tracks. Clemons had crossed from the Java Junction coffee shop inside the station, where he and other passengers had waited inside out of the cold. Passengers must walk across the tracks from the station at Summit Avenue to catch morning trains headed toward Washington.

Two other people have been hit by trains in the Gaithersburg area this year. Montgomery County police said a woman committed suicide when she stepped in front of a CSX train in April, and a Derwood man was hit by a MARC train in July when he crossed the tracks near East Diamond and North Summit avenues.

MARC officials presented their findings to the Gaithersburg City Council on Monday night. Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney Katz said the council will need another meeting to discuss the recommendations before it suggests which ones to prioritize. He said the council welcomed MTA officials’ announcement that they would install electronic countdown timers inside the station in early October to tell passengers how long they had to safely cross the tracks before a train approached.

Katz said city officials don’t hear many concerns from MARC passengers about the station but said, “I think you can always be safer.”

MTA spokesman Terry Owens said the agency will do cost estimates for the improvements and decide which ones the state can afford after hearing from Gaithersburg officials.

MTA officials said MARC trains approaching the station have lowered their speeds, and conductors have permission to refuse boarding to passengers who cross the tracks illegally outside designated crossings. The report also recommended eliminating a wooden crosswalk directly in front of the station and extending a coffee-shop fence to direct passengers to a safer asphalt crossing.

The report also suggested relocating newspaper boxes that limit motorists’ line of sight and could cause them to inadvertently drive onto the tracks. MARC also should install brightly colored “emergency information” signs to alert pedestrians about using caution when crossing the tracks, the report said.

Katherine Shaver is a transportation and development reporter. She joined The Washington Post in 1997 and has covered crime, courts, education and local government but most prefers writing about how people get — or don’t get — around the Washington region.
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