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Railroad, city of Rocklin pursue removal of emergency crossing

Under-trestle option being explored
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald correspondent
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The city of Rocklin and Union Pacific Railroad are negotiating to close an emergency vehicle access rail crossing at Lemon Hill Drive, meant only for first responders in case of an emergency in the Yankee Hill Subdivision.

Aaron Hunt, corporate relations and media director for Union Pacific, released a statement on the negotiations.

“With a focus on safety, Union Pacific plans to close the EVA crossing in the near future,” Hunt said.

Rocklin City Manager Rick Horst said a different emergency route is being sought.

“We are petitioning them to provide a different emergency vehicle access,” Horst said. “Instead of that crossing, we’re working to do a new path down underneath the trestle so we never have to cross the tracks.”

Supporters hope removing the existing EVA will stop train horns through the development, while opponents fear it could affect public safety. According to city documents, about 15 trains pass over the crossing every day.

In an email to the Placer Herald, Yankee Hill Homeowners Association President Franklin Burris said it all started with a request from him.

“This is at our HOA’s request and we appreciate the city’s efforts to make this improvement,” Burris said.

The move stems from the city’s latest efforts to quiet unnecessary train noise through the federal Quiet Zone program, where unless they spot a potential problem, train engineers are required to lay off the horns when approaching crossings. Officials point out as an emergency vehicle access crossing, Lemon Hill is not included in a Quiet Zone, so it will have to be physically removed in order to silence the trains in this area.

“This change will fix that,” Burris said.

Yankee Hill resident Michael Johnston hopes it will make his neighborhood quieter.

“Initially, when we moved in there, the (dirt) berm was high enough to block the noise out,” he said. “Now they bring the double-decker (train cars). It’s quite a bit noisier now.”

Hunt said no timetable has been set.

“Union Pacific continues to work with the city to assure that there are multiple points of access into the residential areas in this part of the city of Rocklin,” Hunt said. “Our foremost most focus at Union Pacific is the safe operation of our trains.”

The Yankee Hill Subdivision sits at the apex of a “v” of two rail lines that cross each other with a trestle about a mile south of the crossing in question. Firefighters and paramedics looking to reach any of the 190 homes have to cross the tracks on Americana Way or use Del Rio Court from Del Mar (also over tracks). Taking the focus is the Lemon Hill Drive crossing, which connects the Don Ward subdivision for emergency vehicles only.

Some residents admit the few times a train could be stopped on both tracks could be a problem if someone had a heart attack and needed help.

“If a train was stuck at both Americana Way and the other one, that would cause a problem,” said Yankee Hill resident Bill Johnston. “It would delay (emergency response). It has happened a few times – not very often, but it’s happened.”

The Rocklin Fire Department released its average response time for the neighborhood and found of the 14 calls for service, from Jan 1, 2012 to March 31, 2013, first responders arrived, on average, in five minutes and 55 seconds. Rocklin Fire Chief James Summers did not respond to a question regarding how much time it could take to for a fire truck to enter the subdivision using the trestle turnaround.

“It would certainly seem to me that the drive around will reduce response time,” Horst said. “Also, I don’t believe any of the 14 calls for service to Yankee Hill required the use of the EVA. In fact, I don’t believe we have ever needed the EVA to date. Therefore, I’d rather not deal in speculation, but facts as they really are.”

The American Heart Association’s scientific position is that brain death and permanent death start to occur four to six minutes after someone experiences cardiac arrest.

Mark Storace, president of the Sacramento Chapter of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association, said he’s concerned about someone surviving any more delay on top of the nearly six-minute response.

“Pair that with the time that death occurs and you can quickly calculate survival odds,” Sto-race said. “Time is most critical when a patient stops breathing from any cause: sudden cardiac arrest, heart attack, choking, accident, blood loss, etc.”

Storace was revived by Rocklin firefighters after his own heart stopped while running on his treadmill at his Rocklin home.

“At one minute, brain cells begin to die, at three minutes brain damage starts to occur, at 10 minutes enough brain cells have died to make recovery unlikely and beyond 12 minutes it is virtually impossible for recovery,” he explained.

Storace suggests the HOA have a defibrillator readily available and help train residents in CPR.

For the Johnston brothers, the risk is concerning, but not enough for them to sell their respective houses and move out of the neighborhood or buck the HOA on the issue.

“We accepted that when we moved in we knew we were going to have train issues,” Michael Johnston said. “But there are some things you don’t think about, like the occasional emergency when it comes up and what that’s going to do.”

“After the change will basically be the same, without (the train) horn,” Burris said. “The EVA will remain, will have more routes, and the city asserts (it) is as safe as prior.”

The city recently removed plans for another route. In November, the city permanently removed plans for a overpass that would connect the subdivision to Argonaut Road over the tracks. Tuesday, the Rocklin City Council unanimously approved a developer’s plan to put 10 new homes in the space set aside for the bridge.

The city has temporary ramps available to put over the tracks if it needs to evacuate the neighborhood.

“Our temporary solution has been to bring in some plastic risers that are lightweight that we can put in to help them cross (the tracks) more smoothly,” Horst said. “By going under the trestle, we never have to stop the trains.”

The city stores the ramps a mile away at the Corporation Yard. The plan to reroute the emergency access seems unnecessary to retired rail employee Ken Rogers.

“I greatly oppose its removal,” he said. “The access route clearly serves a strategic dual purpose – it allows emergency access to portions of both the Don Ward Subdivision and at the same time the Yankee Hill Estates Subdivision.”

The city will determine if the council needs to vote on the crossing removal, according to Public Affairs Director Karen Garner. That would spur a public hearing. According to Horst, the city is negotiating for a legal right-of-way access for the trestle. What could delay the change even further is if grading under the trestle is necessary to accommodate fire truck