Chris Van Horne, NBC 5 Reporter
Hood County officials say new railroad crossing gates in Cresson have created new safety concerns along U.S. 377 near S.H. 171.
A group of Hood County officials say safety improvements to a rail crossing along U.S. Route 377 are actually creating more safety problems.
The issues started this week, when railroad crossing arms were activated for the Fort Worth & Western Railroad crossing on U.S. 377 just north of state Highway 171, about halfway between Benbrook and Granbury in Cresson.
On four of the first five days of operation, the arms would lower when no trains were trying to cross. And the arms would stay lowered for 30 to 45 minutes, causing traffic backups measuring three miles long.
"I couldn't see any road," said Tasha Walker, a business owner on U.S. 377. "I could only see cars -- as far as you could see that way (south) it was backed up."
The backup happened at about 2:30 p.m. Officials say nearly 500 vehicles were stuck, leading to 47 calls to 911 and citizens trying to lift the gates themselves.
"The Cresson train is notorious for upsetting people, you could say," Walker said.
Cresson's mayor, Hood County's sheriff, the county judge and a county commissioner are among those upset with the new crossing gates.
"We didn't want them, but if we're going to have to have them, someone needs to be accountable to make them work," Commissioner Steve Berry. "It happens at the most inconvenient time; people are going to work in rush hour mornings or coming home in the afternoon."
Berry said studies have shown that 20,000 vehicles pass through the U.S. 377-SH 171 interchange every rush-hour period. Traffic can back up even if there are trains crossing the road, but safety issues come up when the arms lower but no train is crossing.
"We had a number of different times in the last few days where citizens tried to raise the arms on their own, and that's not a safe deal to do that, so we can't have them doing that," Hood County Sheriff Roger Deeds said. "We need to make sure they get fixed and working like they're supposed to and we don't have these kinds of issues where people are waiting 30, 45 minutes to an hour waiting on traffic."
Cresson Mayor Bob Cornett, also a city volunteer fire department assistant chief, said he has received numerous calls himself.
"No, they are not happy, and a lot of them have my cellphone number. I'm getting called all day and night," he said. "It's just something that's not acceptable. To me, it would be an easy fix if they would just fix it."
Cornett said he worries there could be issues if the arms are down during an emergency because U.S. 377 is the only direct route from Granbury to Fort Worth.
"If you've got a 30-minute delay because you can't get through because there's no train, and you've got heart attack or stroke victim or wreck or whatever, people are going to die," he said. "And that's a shame."
Fort Worth & Western Railroad operates the crossing and is in charge of the safety improvement project, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.
TxDOT funded the improvement project, agency spokesman Val Lopez said.
NBC 5 contacted the railroad's corporate office but were told no one was present to take the call for comment. The vice president of the railroad NBC 5 was referred to did not return an e-mailed request for comment.