Ridgefield train crash highlights need for overpass

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It was an eventful morning at the Ridgefield boat launch Nov. 6 as a semi-trailer carrying four vehicles was hit by a train, sending the trailer and truck into Lake River. None were injured.

The Ridgefield Police Department first received word of the incident shortly after 8 a.m. according to police chief John Brooks.

Brooks explained that the driver of the semi-trailer was delivering a van in the area. Because the trailer had a low clearance it “high-centered” on the railroad tracks across Mill Street. 

The driver exited the vehicle after he realized it was stuck and called 911 to report the situation — at that time the crossing signals lit up as a train approached the trailer. 

The passing train hit the back of the trailer, knocking off the van in the process which landed on adjacent tracks. 

That impact sent the trailer and semi-truck westward where it “rolled perfect, downhill and right into the boat launch, right into the water,” Brooks said.

The distance from the train tracks to the water’s edge at the boat launch is about 500 feet, according to Clark County Geographic Information Systems.

There was not any damage to the rails themselves to affect subsequent train traffic. By around 11 a.m. trains had resumed travel along the tracks.

“It’s kind of a miracle that it didn’t crash into anything on the way down,” Brooks said. 

The train was owned by Union Pacific while the railroad itself is owned by BNSF Railway. 

A police report on the accident listed the driver as Nikolay Grudko, 44, of Spencerport, New York. Grudko received no injuries as a result of the accident, being outside of the vehicle at impact.

Alongside RPD, Clark County Fire & Rescue, Clark County Sheriff’s Office, Union Pacific Police Department, BNSF Railway officials, the Washington State Department of Ecology and the U.S. Coast Guard responded to the scene.

“As things go, it was a very smooth operation,” Brooks remarked. 

As a precaution, a floating boom was deployed to contain any surface oil spilled as a result of the accident. 

Crews from TLC Towing worked to recover the trailer and vehicles from the river. The truck’s front hood had come off and its windshield was busted out — the windshield wipers were still running as the truck emerged from the water.

Documents included in the police report showed that three of the four vehicles on the trailer received damages as well as the semi-truck and trailer itself.

The port needs an overpass

The accident highlighted the issues faced specifically by the Port of Ridgefield as well as others using the boat launch or nearby marina. 

The at-grade crossings in the city have led to accidents.

Brooks said one of his officers told him a train crash with something on the tracks happens about once a year.

Port of Ridgefield CEO Brent Grening said there has been at least one fatality on the tracks in Ridgefield during his 20-year-tenure. Currently, the port is pursuing a project that would keep accidents from happening — an overpass that would go above the train tracks to the west side of the city currently cut off by the railroad.

The project would feature a continuation of Pioneer Street over the railroad to the west, with the road then curving to the right and descending north to an intersection with Mill Street west of the rail line. Mill Street’s intersection from the east would be rounded off heading north, making the road flow directly into Railroad Avenue while eliminating its railroad crossing.

The most recent snag for the project was brought on by deer. 

In March the port received word from the Washington State Department of Transportation that they would have to re-open an Environmental Impact Statement on the overpass project to take into account Columbian white-tailed deer which, since their transplantation at the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge in 2012, had spread outside of refuge boundaries.

Columbian white-tailed deer were listed as endangered at the time of the relocation, however, in 2016 they were downgraded to threatened by the Fish and Wildlife Service. The initial impact statement was done previous to the relocation of the deer population to the refuge. 

While speaking to The Reflector the day after the accident, Grening said the addition to the statement was complete. A release from the port last month provided a timeline for the overpass project with construction anticipated to start in the first quarter of 2019, concluding after 12 to 14 months for a 2020 opening.

Grening said one of the final pieces of the puzzle was for BNSF to put their final OK on the project.

“They’re not done, but things are moving,” Grening said. Following the Nov. 6 crash, he said the railroad appeared to take a more serious look at moving the project forward.

“Nothing says you need an overpass like an accident and a very close call,” Grening remarked. 

The $11.3 million final phase of a three-part project to connect the sides of Ridgefield cut by the railroad has been a long time coming for an idea first dreamed up in the early 2000s, according to the port’s October update. 

“These projects take time,” Grening said. With the potential for more activity on Ridgefield’s waterfront, having a safe crossing was paramount to prevent accidents that would not end up as lucky as last week’s crash.

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