(Arlington, Texas – July 1, 2012)
Public authorities in the DFW-area city of Arlington, TX are far from happy with railroad efforts at preventing accidents that are becoming all-too-frequent in this city of over 365,000, which also serves as the home of both the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL and MLB’s Texas Rangers.
A tragic collision between an 18-wheeler loaded with sod grass pallets and Amtrak’s “Texas Eagle” passenger train travelling on Union Pacific Railroad tracks late Friday afternoon has escalated concern over public safety as both railroad media representatives played “pass the buck” on issues such as the sounding of the train’s horn.
Last October, a Union Pacific freight train crew ignored a red “stop” signal and rear-ended a standing UP freight, causing a derailment that trapped over 600 attendees at a charity fund raiser at the Howell Farms facility when the accident blocked all roads exiting the event center.
Then, on February 17, another UP freight train derailed a number of tank cars loaded with corn syrup just a few blocks from Arlington’s City Hall, effectively shutting down Friday evening rush-hour traffic and disrupting weekend activities in the city’s popular entertainment district.
In a November, 2011 meeting with city officials, Union Pacific authorities had promised safer operations oversight. Now, after the two most recent accidents, Arlington officials wonder what to believe.
“It’s unusual we’ve had this clustering of accidents in a tight area,” Arlington City Manager Trey Yelverton told a Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter. “We want to make sure people are safe; not only the people crossing and on the railroad vehicles but the people who are around when an accident occurs.”
“There’s beginning to be more traffic there,” said City Council Member Kathryn Wilemon, who represents the area where Friday’s and last October’s accidents occurred. “I don’t know what the solution is, but hopefully we can get one soon.”
But the most critical report on both accidents came from Brad Ham, who was at work at a nearby liquor store at the time of both accidents. He heard the October collision from inside the store, recalling that “It caused the earth to shake.”
But Ham was outside the store Friday and said he never heard the sound of a train horn, instead hearing only “a screech and a slam.” He added that to not hear train’s whistling for the crossing is “highly unusual.”
Then the controversy began. Union Pacific spokesperson Raquel Espinoza said that federal law requires crews to sound a horn only at public crossings. “Privately, there might be an agreement between the road owner and the railway” regarding sounding of the horn, and that “The train engineer has the discretion of sounding the horn.”
Meanwhile, Amtrak spokesman Steve Kulm said that he could not comment about whether a horn was sounded, but said that railroad safety on private roadways is generally the responsibility of the landowner. Kuhn then referred all questions about the accident investigation to the Arlington Police Dept.
Arlington PD officer Zhivonni Mcdonnell said the Union Pacific is conducting the investigation.
And UP’s Espinoza said Amtrak is handling the investigation along with the Arlington Police Dept.
Yet, by Monday, Union Pacific Police were investigating the accident because it was at a private crossing and not an Arlington city street.
So the question is: Who’s on first?