LOWER TOWNSHIP — Township officials have received approvals from the state Department of Transportation to allow school buses to pass through several railroad crossings without stopping.
It may sound dangerous, but Township Manager Mike Voll said the exact opposite is true. Voll said stopping at the crossings on Tabernacle Road and Breakwater Road, as buses travel between Seashore Road and Route 9, was actually causing the danger.
The buses were backing up, called “stacking,” at the intersections waiting for what Voll calls a “ghost train.” Cape May Seashore Lines hasn’t operated a train here for several years.
“It will alleviate that hazard of rear-end accidents,” Voll said.
Federal law requires certain vehicles such as school buses, fuel trucks, Cape May County’s Fare Free Transportation vans, NJ Transit buses and others to stop at crossings. Buses heading to and from the Lower Cape May Regional School District are Voll’s main concern. The school educates students from grades 7-12.
Last year the state DOT completed a $10 million project to extend Tabernacle and Breakwater roads from where they ended at Seashore Road all the way to Route 9. Voll battled with Cape May Seashore Lines last year over the issue because the tourist rail line hasn’t run a train on these tracks since 2010.
A hearing was held in October with the DOT, and Voll said officials from township government, police, three local fire companies, Cape May County government, the Lower Cape May Regional School District and the Lower Township elementary school district all pushed to end the stopping.
At that meeting Tony Macrie of Cape May Seashore Lines agreed with their stance, as long as the issue can be revisited if trains start back up.
“We supported Mike on that issue. There’s no bone of contention. The support had to come from the railroad to make it happen,” Macrie said.
Voll said he received a letter from DOT Commissioner Jim S. Simpson on Monday that the railroad has until Feb. 28 to install “exempt crossing” signs.
“Lower Township feels this is a victory for our school bus drivers and the safety of our children, who have had to stop for a ghost train up to this point. It’s a shame so many tax dollars have been spent on this failed train operation,” Voll said.
Voll said the next step is to try and get an exempt crossing sign at the Ferry Road railroad crossing. This is south of the school but also part of the tracks Cape May Seashore Line has not been using. It is the last area crossing where an accident was recorded. In 2000 a teenage driver tried to beat the train and was hit. The train drove his vehicle into another vehicle. There were several injuries but no fatalities.
If trains do resume the exempt signs would be removed but drivers would also have to get back in the habit of being aware of trains.
“When the lights flash and the gates go down, motorists have to stop for a train. This doesn’t mean there will never be trains again,” Macrie said.
Contact Richard Degener: