A northwest Tarrant neighborhood has spent years stopped by trains. That may changedfwnewsa | November 20, 2023 | 1 | Dallas News , Fort Worth , Fort Worth News
Jason Dyer, who has lived in Vista Ranch for 10 years, said he has on speed dial the number to call when a train is blocking the development’s exit.
Many of his neighbors do, too. He said he realized he moved into a neighborhood with a single way in and out, but didn’t realize how often it would be blocked.
“This last one, the one that I got stuck at,” Dyer said, “(the train) was three cars short of crossing the track.”
A new road project could relieve years of frustration for residents of an unincorporated northwest Tarrant County community. The neighborhood of Vista Ranch’s only entrance and exit is regularly blocked by trains — sometimes for hours at a time.
Blocked crossings are common in Tarrant County; nearly 270 were reported in Tarrant County in the past year — a number that is likely underreported, the Fort Worth Report previously found. The self-reported database maintained by the Federal Railroad Administration shows blockages from 15 minutes to 2-6 hours. Some workers in Fort Worth crawl over stopped trains to get to work.
There are no federal or state laws in place that deter slow-moving or stopped trains, according to the Federal Railroad Administration and the Texas Department of Transportation. There were previously criminal penalties if trains blocked a railroad crossing for more than 10 minutes, but a U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals federal law preempted the rule. That’s why local officials have to find solutions beyond regulations.
Tarrant County Precinct 4 Commissioner Manny Ramirez said plans are 60% finished for constructing a road in the neighborhood that would connect Tinsley Lane to Peden Road. The $1.5 million project is being planned by engineering firm Parkhill and will be built by county workers. The exact route of the road is to be determined.
Ramirez said Vista Ranch’s train problem got his attention when he first stepped into his position as commissioner. He considers unimpeded accessibility a safety issue.
“I was a police officer for 15 years in Fort Worth. I understand how critical it is that we have entrances into these neighborhoods for public safety services in the event of an emergency,” Ramirez said. “And also, I look at just the topography, I mean, if there were a wildfire or something and that crossing was blocked, it can be very, very dangerous.”
Ramirez estimates the road will be built in about a year, after the county acquires right-of-way for construction and the engineering plans are finalized.
Residents and area businesses in the Vista Ranch area say trains can block the only in-and-out access to the area for anywhere from 15-20 minutes. Charlotte Phillips, office manager of trucking company Phillips and Son Heavy Haul Inc. said on several occasions the trains have blocked the intersection for hours. No one can get in. No one gets out. It interrupts business, but she’s also worried about safety.
“If you have a medical emergency … you can’t get an ambulance to you,” Phillips said. “And you can’t get out to go to the hospital.”
Fort Worth’s Fire Department was delayed 87 times when responding to calls between January 2022 and May 2023, according to data obtained by the Fort Worth Report from the fire department.
Union Pacific spokesperson Robynn Tysver said in a statement that the company is committed to working with Tarrant County to find solutions at the Tinsley Lane crossing. The company recommends reporting any issues with a crossing at UP.com or by calling the Emergency Response Center at 1-800-877-7267.
Tysver previously told the Fort Worth Report trains can move slower or stop for a number of reasons — weather events that damage tracks, signal malfunctions, reduced speed restrictions, mechanical issues, adding or removing cars from a train or moving rail cars in and out of a customer’s building.
“We understand the frustration of those impacted by occupied crossings, but it is important to remember that one train can remove hundreds of trucks from the highway, reducing congestion on our state and city highways,” Tysver wrote.
Ramirez said he recognizes the importance of the rail industry to the economy and said the companies are partners on projects. BNSF funded part of a $22.9 million overpass at the train crossing at the nearby Bonds Ranch Road. He said he has spoken with Union Pacific about solutions for blocked entrances in the meantime, such as sending crews to split the train cars and creating a 24-hour hotline.
“Our focus is on creating that secondary entrance,” Ramirez said. “That’s what we can control. But the bottom line is every tool at our disposal, every option that we have within our power to utilize, we’re using it.”
At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at email@example.com and follow on Twitter @sbodine120.