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What's Driving You Crazy: The railroad crossing at Oxford and S. Natches Court is dangerously rough

Who's responsible and why hasn't it been fixed?
Railroad crossing at Oxford and S. Natches Court
Posted at 4:20 AM, Feb 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-23 07:42:00-05

Ryan from Denver writes, “What's driving you crazy? At South Natches Court and West Oxford Ave in Sheridan, there is a railroad grade that has, for way too long, been damaging cars with a multiple deep potholes and a dislodged piece of concrete that sticks a good 8-10" inches above the surrounding surface. You have to see it to believe it. This is a seriously dangerous obstacle and one that's undoubtedly caused drivers huge repair bills. It'd absolutely kill a motorcyclist if they didn't see it coming. It's been like this for as long as I can remember and yet it goes unfixed. I ask you to kindly find out who's responsible and why it continues to go uncorrected.”

I’ve fielded several questions regarding rough railroad crossings, but this might be one of the worst that I have visited. The crossing is so rough, I was tempted to make a U-turn to avoid driving over the crossing and damaging my car. That crossing is the property of Union Pacific Railroad in the City of Sheridan.

You are not the first to complain about this crossing. Other drivers have complained about it. Trucking companies who routinely use that crossing complained about it. The business owners at the little shopping center right next to the crossing have complained about it. Even the City of Sheridan has made multiple complaints to Union Pacific Railroad (UP) about the crossing. Thankfully, something is finally being done to address the problem.

In the next week or two, UP will be making some temporary repairs with assistance from the City of Sheridan for traffic control.

“Right now, we are in the design phases of permanent repairs,” said City of Sheridan Superintendent of Public Works Randy Mourning. “Our paving contractor will be on site for any repairs outside of tracks that will need to occur to facilitate the UP temporary repair.”

The temporary repair announcement comes after a Feb. 11 meeting between the City of Sheridan, Union Pacific Railroad, and the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. There have been several meetings with UP, Sheridan and the PUC regarding this crossing and the repairs to be made. The Colorado PUC became involved after a formal complaint was filed against UP to make the necessary repairs. The Public Utilities Commission has primary jurisdiction over all public highway-rail crossings, including opening, closing, upgrading, signalizing, construction of overpasses or underpasses, and the allocation of costs.

“The City of Sheridan, Union Pacific and Public Utilities Commission rail safety staff have been meeting to determine what all will need to be included in this matter as the city wants to make some additional changes at the crossing besides just replacing the surface,” said Terry Bote, external affairs manager for the Colorado ‎Public Utilities Commission. “Ultimately, the city will need to make an application with the PUC for the changes it would like to make.”

“We are working with UP and PUC on agreements and for the scope of the permanent repairs,” Mourning said.

One of the interesting parts of this process is the railroad is not working directly on the design of the crossing repairs. UP plans to leave that to the City of Sheridan. The cost of the repairs, estimated to be $50,000, will be shared between Union Pacific and the City of Sheridan. That came as a surprise to the city as they were under the impression the railroad owned the crossing and would be responsible for the total cost of repairs.

“That is what we have always been told,” Mourning said. “As soon as we found out we were 50% responsible, we got the ball moving as fast as we can. We aren’t going to fight this cost split. We just want this thing fixed.”

Bote said it is incorrect that all work and equipment within the railroad right-of-way is the responsibility of only the railroad.

"Crossings are shared by the road authority (to allow vehicles to cross the tracks) and the railroad (to allow the trains to cross the roadway), so maintenance of the crossing is split 50/50 since both use it," Bote said.

According to the Colorado PUC, road authorities will typically pay to have active warning devices installed at a crossing for the safety of their citizens, and the railroad will pay for and perform the maintenance of the active warning for the life of the crossing.

“Union Pacific has received complaints about the crossing, and we are working with the City of Sheridan to develop a plan to address the concerns and make improvements,” said Elizabeth A. Graham with Union Pacific Railroad. “Union Pacific is following the process outlined by the Colorado Rules Regulating Railroads and working with the City to address the crossing as well as their plans for the area at the same time. Once the City has presented plans to Union Pacific for approval and gained approval from the Colorado PUC, we will begin construction.”

MORE: Read more traffic issues driving people crazy

The city of Sheboygan, Michigan had a similar issue with UP a few years ago. They had a rough crossing that needed repairs for about three years. It was only after numerous unanswered requests to Union Pacific to repair several of the Sheboygan railroad crossings that the Sheboygan passed a city resolution making a formal complaint to the State of Wisconsin Railroad Commission demanding that Union Pacific make the necessary repairs to the railroad crossings.

In early January 2020, Union Pacific and the Department of Public Works agreed to work together to repair several of the crossings without going through the formal complaint process with the State of Wisconsin Railroad Commission.

Mourning said after the design is complete and approved, they hope to see construction start and finish by this summer. The rough plan includes a total tear out of the current crossing and rebuild it along with the road while adding access for pedestrians to cross Natches Court.

If you come across a rough or dangerous railroad crossing, you can report the problem to the railroad directly. Every crossing, no matter the controlling railroad, should have a sign posted that identifies the crossing with a specific identifying number. There should also be a phone number to call to report a problem with the crossing. In this case the number for Union Pacific is 800-848-8715 and the crossing number is 253038V.

Denver7 traffic anchor Jayson Luber says he has been covering Denver-metro traffic since Ben-Hur was driving a chariot. (We believe the actual number is over 20 years.) He's obsessed with letting viewers know what's happening on their drive and the best way to avoid the problems that spring up. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram or listen to his Driving You Crazy podcast on iTunes , Stitcher , Google Play or Podbean.