Waxahachie City Council members took up the discussion on street closings at rail crossings as part of the city’s quiet zone project during its meeting Monday night.
“The city began looking several years ago for ways to make train traffic safer inside the city,” City Manager Paul Stevens said as he began his discussion on the issue.
During the council’s last meeting, three streets had been targeted for possible closure at rail crossings: North Highland, North Aiken and Hawkins.
Stevens presented three options that would providing crossing controls and creating quiet zones. The first proposed is a quad gate.
“This a system of gate arms where there are two arms on each side of the intersection to prevent cars from going around the arms,” Stevens said while showing photos on an overhead viewer.
The second option is a single gate with a median.
“Again, the object of the median is to prevent a vehicle from going around the arms and crossing the path of an oncoming train,” Stevens said. “The other option is a wayside horn. This is a horn mounted on a pole at the intersection facing the street at the crossing. When the train approaches, the horn sounds as the gates come down.
The only time the train will sound its horn is if there is a danger blocking the track,” Stevens said.
Union Pacific Rail Road came to the council with a recommendation to close three street crossings, Stevens recalled.
“The closings would create a quiet zone from the train horns while increasing traffic safety within the town. At that time the council turned the railroad down,” Stevens told council members.
The equipment and installations would cost the city between $250,000 and $500,000 per crossing, according to the city manager, who said the railroad and TXDOT would reimburse the city up to $100,000.
“The more we close, the happier they will be,” Stevens said.
“You cannot put a price on safety. If we choose not to close the streets, we would continue with the quiet zones,” councilman Buck Jordan said.
Mayor Joe Jenkins asked if anyone from the audience wanted to speak about the street closings and opened the discussion regarding North Highland Street.
Several people presented a petition to the council not to close the street, citing traffic to and from Optimist Club ballpark. Others expressed concerns about problems getting to and from their houses and delays with emergency vehicles getting into the neighborhood.
“I’ve listened to those trains for 30 years,” resident Bon Martin said. “The problem is who will maintain the rail right-of-way if the street is closed. This has been a problem in the past; the city says it’s not theirs to maintain and you cannot find anybody at the railroad to talk to.”
Jenkins also asked for concerns about North Aiken, with several people discussing the effects on Joshua Chapel A.M.E. Church. Representing the church, several speakers cited the church’s historical designation. Other concerns were traffic flow during services and funerals. After the presentations, Jenkins said, “We have heard a lot of good input from the community. I think we are getting the flavor of this thing.”
In response to a question about what a quiet zone is, Jenkins answered, “In a quiet zone, they would not be blowing their horns unless there was an eminent danger.”
After council discussion and input from Stevens and city attorney Steve Chapman, the council agreed to not close North Highland or North Aiken streets. They did agree to close and passed the proposed ordinance to close Hawkins.