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A look at dangerous railroad crossings in Fort Bend County

HOUSTON – A roaring train is intimidating man-made machinery.

However, if a man gets stuck in a crossing, he is lucky to come out alive.

On the afternoon of Sept. 21, 2018, Jesus Brondo barely escaped death, "I was there for a while, and I heard two or three honks and boom!"

Minutes after his rig was slammed by an Amtrak passenger train a member of law enforcement told him, "You better go home and thank Jesus, man."

Channel 2 Investigates obtained body cam videos of Missouri City police working the destructive scene. The videos paint a clear picture of what the immediate aftermath was like on the train as well as off of it. Workers being told to be careful and watch their step due to a downed power line, “Hey guys just so you know, they are considering the truck hot, there is still a live wire somewhere.”

For Sgt.Tracy Cox, the scene at the intersection of Cravens Road and U.S. 90 is all too familiar as he admits to have dealt with this type of scene in the past.

It is important to note, this occurred in the state that leads the nation with over 10,000 miles of railroad. That is enough rail to crisscross the United States nearly four times.

While driver error makes crossings like the one along South Gessner in Missouri City one of the 10 worst in the state, a crossing covering a tiny stretch of track a mile to the east at Cravens and U.S. 90 is dangerous by design, according to Cox. “Right now the Federal Railroad Commission considers this the sixth worst crossing in the state of Texas."

The Federal Railroad Administration Office of Safety Analysis has recorded nine accident/incident reports here since 2012. Channel 2 Investigates discovered a questionable layout at this intersection, where relentless traffic blocks drivers. The U.S. Department of Transportation Inventory Form for Cravens Road punches the box for a traffic signal, street lights within 50 and three lanes at the crossing. That records do not match up with reality. Moreover, the form states the intersecting roadway is approximately 75 feet away. Cox got a different measurement of, “51 feet from the closest rail to the intersection."

 

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Railroad Crossing Inventory (PDF)
Railroad Crossing Inventory (Text)

All of this can easily lead to one thing: Trucks a small or big portion of them, are sitting on a set of tracks. In the midst of our investigation we saw danger develop quickly and clearly when one rig was jammed up, He has nowhere to go” said Cox. When asked if the crossing is engineered properly? Cox said, “Not for commercial traffic in my opinion it's not."

Cox, who heads up the Missouri City Traffic Unit, says he and his team did submit a report with solutions, "It was completed and submitted to the city of August 2017."

Two simple suggestions included the addition of more concrete on the turnout and a turn lane onto U.S. 90.  These two features already exist for traffic coming off of 90 and turning into the crossing.

 

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Railroad Crossing Accident (PDF)
Railroad Crossing Accident (Text)

Cox and others want the crossing at Cravens Road and U.S. 90 re-engineered to avoid the one conversation he and every member of law enforcement dreads. The one his family heard in the '70s when his uncle, a train engineer, died after his train hit a petroleum truck near Katy. "It is always is challenging when you tell somebody their family is not coming home anymore," Cox said.

A spokeswoman for Missouri City tells Channel 2 Investigates, that “since December, 2017, the city has convened a series of at least 18 public/private meetings regarding this issue, taking into account all pertinent solutions. As this is a complex situation, we are working to cover all bases to assure a proactive outcome that implements a long-term safety solution for area residents.”