Video shows ‘near-miss’ between ambulance, MetroRail

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A near-collision between Capital Metro train and an Austin-Travis County EMS ambulance is raising questions about safety for both agencies. Video from the train and the downtown MetroRail platform on Jan. 5 show the ambulance, with lights activated for emergency, crossing over the tracks at the 4th and Red River intersection as the train approaches. The train had just departed the downtown station and was traveling at a low speed.

The paramedic driving the ambulance is still on the job, but has been reassigned to a different position while ATCEMS investigates why they chose to cross the tracks. However, the intersection and its lack of railroad crossing arms are also being scrutinized.

“This intersection is on a small stretch of road in the downtown area where we have the train running along a city street,” said Capital Metro Communications Manager Francine Pares.

The stretch of Fourth Street from Interstate 35 to the platform in front of the convention center is the only stretch where the MetroRail travels on a city roadway shared by automobiles. There are 70 crossings along the 32-mile MetroRail route, but because of that on-street rail setup at the Fourth and Red River streets intersection, it is the only one that utilizes a standard four-way traffic light seen commonly at street intersections.

“Each one of those crossings is individually evaluated for what warning system we will put there,” said Pares. “In this situation, it was determined a four-way traffic light was the appropriate warning system to be used.”

Two different styles of railroad crossing warning signs are mounted; one at the intersection and another for drivers to see as they approach it. Pares said when a train is passing through, all lights at the Fourth and Red River streets intersection are red. However, 4th street is a one-way road for drivers running east to west. A train departing the downtown station on Fourth Street runs west to east.

The Austin-Travis County EMS Association said medics are held to high and ever-changing standards and procedures when responding to emergency calls. A spokesperson for the association said they hope the intersection is re-examined and potentially given added safety measures.

Capital Metro asked drivers, cyclists and pedestrians be alert around trains and look both ways when crossing over tracks.

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