Plans to remove a dangerous level crossing in the town of Paltamo had been in the works for years before an accident claimed two lives at the site last week, according to the local road district's chair.
Two people in a passenger car died after being hit by an express train at the crossing on Friday, about three kilometres from the Paltamo train station. The town is located in the centre of Finland.
Voitto Leinonen, chair of the Koikerolahdentie Road District, said that discussions about closing motor vehicle traffic at the crossing began as early as 2017. In order to keep traffic moving over the tracks, a new road that leads to a crossing at the western end of the train station needs to be constructed. That level crossing is outfitted with an automated gate to prevent collisions.
"The first proposals were made in 2019 and by then there were already images [of the plans] made. There was discussion that construction would begin in 2019-2020. For some reason [the plans] were delayed," Leinonen said.
Efforts to remove the railroad and roadway intersection, which is known as the Lepikko level crossing, is part of the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency's nationwide level crossing removal and improvement project.
The site is scheduled to be completely decommissioned next year through the use of traffic detours.
Leinonen said he has been in contact with the transport infrastructure agency on several occasions and that the crossing should be shut down by next summer.
The Transport Infrastructure Agency has said that, until last week, there had been no reported accidents at the Lepikko level crossing since the year 2000, when the agency began recording the number of accidents at level crossings across the country.
In 2020 three people lost their lives and two more were seriously injured in level crossing accidents across the country.
Meanwhile, this year has already seen six fatalities at level crossings in Finland, according to preliminary data.