Railroad work blocks mom, daughter in wheelchair

Union Pacific says emergency plan in place
By: Martha Garcia Gold Country News Service
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A Weimar family has found itself living on the wrong side of the tracks during Union Pacific Railroad’s project to upgrade the transcontinental railway. Todd and Amy Hanaway must use East Weimar Cross Road and travel over a railroad crossing to get to their Sunset Way home. The Hanaways have nine children, four of whom use wheelchairs to get around. Amy Hanaway said that Wednesday morning, Feb. 22, she had parked her car on the opposite side of the railroad tracks, as neighbors had advised if she wanted to leave for the day. “When I went to take my medically fragile foster daughter to a doctor’s appointment and walked over to our car, they refused to let us pass through to get to my car on the other side of the tracks,” Hanaway said. The 17-year-old girl, Hanaway said, is confined to a wheelchair. According to Hanaway, the crossing was closed, with no passage allowed, from about 8:20 a.m. until about 6 p.m. while a work train was laying track. In order to get to her car, Hanaway said she had to push the wheelchair, with her foster daughter in it, for part of a mile. A neighbor assisted her in pushing some of the way. The Hanaways also have three adopted handicapped sons whose bus arrived at 3:30 p.m. from special education classes at the Newcastle school they attend. “They couldn’t get home … My husband had to use a four-wheel drive and boonie crash through private property to get to our kids,” Hanaway said. Hanaway is worried about not having access to an ambulance, a fire truck, or sheriff’s car in case of an emergency. On three occasions last year, she said, one of her sons had seizures that required an ambulance ride to the hospital in order to stop the seizures. But Liisa Lawson-Stark, UP’s local Director of Public Affairs, said the transportation company does have an emergency plan in place. “We have been working closely with the Placer Hills Fire District, as well as the Placer County Sheriff’s Office, to keep them apprised of the work being done and the work schedule,” Lawson-Stark said. “And they, the emergency responders, have a number to call when the crossing is closed if an emergency arises, and that connects them to UP personnel working on the ground so that we can let them through and provide access.” Lawson-Stark said UP realizes the construction project can be a major inconvenience, but they’re trying to get the work done as quickly as possible. According to Lawson-Stark, the work is scheduled to resume at the East Weimar Cross Road railroad crossing on Friday, March 2, and continue during the day, but not evenings, through Sunday, March 4. However, she said, equipment breakdown and maintenance issues can affect the work schedule and road closures. Placer County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Jennifer Montgomery represents Weimar and the Colfax area. Montgomery said the county has been proactive in communicating with UP about accommodating emergency access at closure points. “We have been in constant contact with … interested parties, both public and private, in an effort to coordinate whenever and wherever possible,” Montgomery said. “Ultimately the closures, and the railroad itself, are operated and regulated by Union Pacific and the federal government.” She also pointed that in the case of an actual emergency, there is still emergency response available by helicopter access. Chief Ian Gow of the Placer Hills Fire Protection District said there have been no calls for service made to his office during previous railroad crossing closures. But there is a system in place should an emergency occur. “The railroad has supplied us a phone number of the manager on scene of the repair work and if either the fire or sheriff’s department gets a call for service in those areas, our dispatchers call that number, tell them we’re coming, and they will open up the tracks to allow us in and out,” Gow said. Residents from Colfax to Rocklin have been affected by closures at numerous railroad crossings throughout the region since the work began in Auburn in December. The project is part of a $3.3 billion Union Pacific infrastructure investment.