Railroad News

Arlington Awaits Answers to Deadly, Unguarded Union Pacific Crossing Concerns

(Arlington, Texas – July 22, 2012)

They call it “Widow Woman’s Crossing” and, even though the nickname was not the description of a tragedy, but rather of someone who lived near it, the private crossing in far west Arlington, TX has since earned its tragic reputation.

Originally built in 1914 as an access to the estate of prominent Fort Worth, TX businessman Col. Paul Waples, the crossing led to his tragic demise two years later when his automobile was struck by an interurban trolley passenger train. Although the accident widowed no one, since the victim was unmarried and had no children, but his house and estate were later occupied by Col. Waples’ niece, herself a widow, and thus the name.

Fast forward seven decades, when Steve Howell purchased the property and turned it into a family-friendly recreation and event center, “Howell Family Farms”, and a situation which was once merely the entrance to a private home became a destination for many Metroplex events. The railroad tracks, meanwhile, originally owned by a long-gone interurban railroad, had become Union Pacific property through a massive merger in 1982.

Then, last October, as hundreds of DFW-area residents attended a charity fund raiser at the Howell Family Farms facility, a Union Pacific freight train’s crew ignored a red signal and plowed into the rear of another, standing, UPRR train, trapping the event’s attendees for hours.

Bad as the accident was, no one was injured, and the only role the crossing played was its route of egress – or its lack thereof, thanks to being blocked by a train wreck – from the facility. And thus began public and political consternation over railroad safety in particular and the crossing itself in general.

Still, on June 29, the driver of an 18-wheeler flatbed delivering sod pallets to the Howell facility failed to see or hear a rapidly-approaching Amtrak passenger train at the dangerous, unguarded crossing –believed to be the only crossing along the 37-mile rail line between Dallas and Fort Worth without crossing gates, or any active protective systems whatsoever. The truck driver was struck and dragged, in the cab of his truck, wedged beneath the Amtrak locomotive, for the length of a football field. The driver, Raan Hunter, a married father of six children, lingered in the intensive care unit of John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, TX for over a week before succumbing to the effects of his massive injuries. Now, “Widow Woman’s Crossing” had lived up to its tragic nickname. “We’re dealing with a tragic loss that was senseless,” laments Hunter’s widow, Megan.

Public concern over the safety – or lack thereof – of the crossing escalated after the June 29 accident. A July 22 Fort Worth Star-Telegram article by Gordon Dickson unearthed many expert opinions and explored options for the crossing.

Texas Rail Advocates, a Dallas-headquartered non-profit, rail improvement advocacy organization, indicated the concept of stop-sign-only rail crossings may work in rural areas, but not in major  metropolitan areas like Dallas, Fort Worth – or Arlington, where the “stop-sign-only” description fits the “Widow Woman’s Crossing” perfectly.

“Putting it together with a venue where several hundred cars cross a busy double-track main line is an accident waiting to happen,” predicts TRA President Peter LeCody.

Jim Parajon, interim deputy city manager for the City of Arlington, says any solutions to the crossing’s safety improvement must include the railroad’s participation. “We’re also looking at working with Union Pacific in regard to what else we can do, because they own the property, to provide extra protection.”

Parajon added that “They’re the property owner. They’re the responsible party for that crossing.”

But Union Pacific spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza isn’t all that enthused about the situation, saying that “When that crossing was put in place, this business (Howell’s) wasn’t in operation. The character of the location has changed,” she says, contending that the crossing was not intended for public use when it was first created back in 1914.

But while you are on that subject, Ms. Espinoza, in 1914 about the closest Union Pacific came to Arlington, Texas was Kansas City, Kansas. Yes, as you pointed out, “The character of the location has changed!”