BERLIN – The Maryland & Delaware Railroad Company (MDRC) is reaching the final stages of extensive work in the Berlin area, confirming what the company president says is a commitment to continue operations in this area.
MDRC, through the use of a $1.6 million grant, will complete new track and lighting work for three crossings in town.
In an interview and tour of the project on Monday, MDRC President Eric Callaway said he estimates that all work should be completed by early March.
The project, which includes installing approximately a mile and a half of rail ties, along with replacing corroded sections of track and completely revamping the lighting system, has been something that MDRC has had on the table for years, but only recently gotten the chance to work on.
“It’s a big plan,” stated Callaway. “We’ve been working on it probably, two years. I think it’s a 90 to 10 matching grant, 90 percent federal to 10 percent state [funding].”
MDRC’s main goals for the grant will be modernizing crossings at Main Street, Broad Street, and Old Ocean City Blvd., all of which have already been completed, except for the crossing at Main Street Additionally, unlighted crossings at Washington and Baker streets were also redone because they were part of the approach to the other crossings.
“What we’re doing is improving three, lighted road crossings,” said Callaway. “We’re rebuilding them, updating them.”
Callaway confirmed that track work on the Main Street crossing should begin the first weekend in December.
“We hope to get out of here before the Christmas parties Berlin people are so famous for,” he said, going on to state that all track work for the project should be done by Jan. 1, which is when the crews responsible for modernizing the line’s signal lighting would arrive.
“They’re going to come in and update all of the lights,” said Callaway. “That technology in the box right now is 35 to 40 years old.”
According to Callaway, one of the biggest problems railroads have to deal with are “false activations” of crossing signal lights, something which the new lighting system should effectively eliminate.
“Zero’s the number,” he replied when asked how often MDRC predicted there would be false activations with the new lighting. He did add, however, there could still be the occasional false activation under the most extreme of circumstances.
“If lightening strikes close enough [to the crossing], it’ll get into the box,” said Callaway. “And before it gets in there’ll be fuses, lightning arresters, that stop it.”
Callaway did admit that, despite the arresters, a lightening strike could cause a false activation, but that such rare acts of nature couldn’t generally be helped and would only cause a minimal problem, especially given how infrequently lightening would strike too close to a crossing.
In addition to new ties and lighting, rails in a few spots are also being replaced. For most of the track, the rail that’s been in place for more than 30 years is still in good condition and won’t be switched out. However, the rail on one particular curve, which has had to deal with extra stress because of its placement, is being swapped out.
Also, all rails that run directly through the crossing are being replaced due to erosion. Callaway attributed the advanced decay of that rail as compared to the rest of the line to the salt that gets spread over the roads during the winter to prevent frost.
One final act of maintenance that MDRC is performing on the line is clearing trees and brush back from the track to improve line of sight.
When asked how far back they would clear, Callaway said that, “… we try and get at least our property off.”
Callaway explained that Berlin is a uniquely narrow property line for the railroad.
“Normally, nine times out of 10, the property line is 33 feet from the centerline. In other words, we’ll have 66 feet. For some reason, we’ve inherited this tight place through here,” he said, referring to the length of track being worked on, where the property line shrinks to only several yards from the centerline in areas.
Crews are removing as much brush and clutter as possible given the limit of property dimensions.
“If the people can see the engine, they’re okay. Yeah, they might play chicken with you, but there is some judgment; if they can’t see it, that’s when you’ve got a problem,” he said.
He pointed out that the issues with line of sight made the necessity for a modern lighting system all the more important.
“Lights are real critical in this town,” he stated.
Callaway expressed satisfaction that after a long wait, the grant came through, stating that project was, “due,” and that the updates would improve the service that MDRC provides to the town.
“We don’t intend to shut this line down,” said Callaway. “We intend to serve whoever’s here that needs served…we’ve served here 25 years and intend to be here another 25.”