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Tacoma railroad crossing to get safety upgrades after 2 deaths in 2 years

Tacoma railroad crossing to get safety upgrades after 2 deaths in 2 years. (KOMO News)

TACOMA, Wash. -- The City of Tacoma and BNSF Railway are finalizing a $300,000 safety upgrade to a railroad crossing where two people died one year apart.

The project will transform the crossing at McCarver Street and Ruston Way.

In November 2016, Alexandria Lewis was hit and killed by a train while walking back to work. One year earlier, almost to the day, Cale Tyler was struck near the same crossing while on an evening run. Both attempted to cross behind a train while the warning signals were still going and were hit by a train going the other direction.

“It’s a horrific ordeal to go through,” Lewis’ sister, Maria Walker said. “I didn’t just lose my sister, I lost my best friend.”

The families of both Lewis and Tyler immediately saw a need for changes at the crossing. The sidewalk where pedestrians cross has no gate, known as a crossing arm. So the families attended city council meetings, and expressed their desire for change.

“It was a little frustrating it was taking so long,” Jennifer Tyler said.

Then, in January, the city council approved the $300,000 project.

The new project will upgrade the sidewalk, install gates on both sides of the tracks, and place six-foot fences around the sidewalk and road to funnel pedestrians to that sidewalk. They hope that will deter people from wandering onto the tracks while trains are passing.

“I think it’s long overdue,” Walker said. “But I’m relieved at the same time.”

“I hope this will help protect other people in the future,” Cale Tyler’s wife Jennifer added.

Jennifer Tyler moved away to South Dakota after her husband died, but hopes to return to see the new crossing when the work is done.

While the City of Tacoma approved the project nine months ago, they still have not reached an agreement with BNSF, who will do most of the construction.

BNSF said they are working diligently with the city and the Utilities and Transportation Commission, and hope to have a deal done in the next 30 days. Then they will order the materials.

The city locked up a $50,000 grant from the UTC this week, which will help offset some of the cost.

The city hopes the fencing is done by the holidays, and the gates are installed by early next year. The project must be completed by April 2, 2018 for them to get the grant.

Twenty-two people have been killed by trains in Washington state this year.

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