Union Pacific Says It's Working to Keep Neighborhood Tracks Clear

Tower 55 Project Should Speed Up Stopped Trains

Some good news may be on track for a Fort Worth neighborhood that in recent weeks has been cut-off by stopped trains.

Union Pacific said in the last week it's made efforts to keep trains from stopping and blocking a crossing at East Peach Street, between North Live Oak Street and Hays Street, during peak times of the day.

In the Rock Island neighborhood train traffic often moves at a crawl if not slower. The reason is Tower 55, the major train intersection where 25-percent of all the nation's rail freight passes through, according to city councilman Jungus Jordan.

"We liken it to say I-35 and I-30 coming to a four-way stop," said Clint Schelbitzki, director of public affairs for Union Pacific.

To keep trains waiting less to pass through Tower 55, a $100 million project is already underway.

Work crews have already made progress adding a new north-south rail line, visible from Hattie Street. Crews are also adding additional side tracks, bridges and are preparing to close some neighborhood crossings. A pair of BNSF crossing at East Peach Street, near Grant Avenue, and East First Street, near Elm Street, will be closed just before the start of next school year as part of the project.

"They'll be safer in the future and there will be less disruption in our neighborhoods, better quality of air, better quality of life," said Jordan. "That's what it's about."

Jordan said all neighborhoods with train crossings will benefit when Tower 55 finishes in September.

For residents along  East Peach Street, near North Live Oak, they're use to stopped trains and, while they know it's dangerous, people crossing over and under the stopped rail cars.

"It's a way of life down here, when you have no way out," said Catherine De Leon, who's lived in the neighborhood for more than 50 years.

In the last week, after complaints of multiple hour and day long waits, De Leon says she has noticed the trains aren't stopping as long.

"Yeah, they'll stop for 15 to 20 minutes and then they'll go," she said.

She said one train was parked over night, but cleared in time for her to take children to school shortly after 7 a.m. Union Pacific said trains waiting to enter Tower 55 can wait 90 minutes or longer.

She also said the other way into the neighborhood on East First Street near the Purina plant hasn't been blocked.

"So we have a way out," she said.

Schelbitzki said Union Pacific became aware of the issues from calls by NBC 5, Fort Worth police and from residents.

"We're working on keeping that clear as much as possible," he said.

Schelbitzki said Union Pacific wants to keep both people and trains moving, that's part of the reason why it's put $39 million into the Tower 55 project.

"We've got no incentive to keep trains from standing still anywhere," he said. "We try to move them as quickly as possible anytime we can. If there is an issue where we're blocking a crossing, we need to be told about it, so we can act. And that's what's going on right now."

Tower 55's completion should lessen the time trains have to wait at East Peach near North Live Oak. Union Pacific and BNSF representatives told a meeting of the Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition (TRTC) on Wednesday morning that Tower 55 will cut down on safety concerns and reduce the delays by as many as 100,000 hours annually.

While Union Pacific has put nearly $40 million into the renovation efforts, BNSF has put up another $37 million and the federal Department of Transportation provided $34 million in grants. Jordan said the city and the TRTC made Tower 55 it's top priority and got the funding it needed after impressing that point upon then-Secretary Ray LaHood. The federal funds were granted in 2010 and the project will be complete just about four years later, which is remarkably quick according to Jordan.

It won't be easy to rebuild the Tower 55 area - 22 different construction phases, including bridge and track replacements will be needed. The Stephenson Bridge replacement is scheduled for June, followed by the Lancaster Bridge replacement in August, although work and some lane closures are already taking place on Lancaster Avenue for the project. Major track construction will also be done in August with a projected completion for the entire project scheduled for September.

The Live Oak Connector project will relieve the problems for residents at East Peach and North Live Oak. City officials said last week that they're on track for a spring 2015 completion. The project will shut the East Peach and East First crossings and extend North Live Oak Street south to intersect with East Fourth Street, without having to pass over any railroad tracks.

NBC 5's Jeff Smith contributed to this report.

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