Stalled trains become daily occurrence in Houston’s Fifth Ward, East End through Old Spanish Trail South Union

HOUSTON – Workers like Jesse Torres, along with people going to school or work are forced to wait sometimes past eight hours as 100 trains a day from three different railroad companies block intersections, blow loud horns and even park trains behind homes while hauling goods as they pass through.

“I’m on company time,” Torres said while stalled at a railroad crossing. “And it’s costing them to have to sit here you know. But it’s always like this. It’s just a big hot mess.”

The same train that blocked Torres at Hirsch and Cline for 35 to 40 minutes, is the same one Chantel McHenry has been timing from her home.

“It’s been here for almost an hour and a half and who knows when it will leave,” McHenry said.

McHenry said the train traffic is a safety and mobility issue. She said she’d like to see a crossing arm installed at the railroad crossing near her home to reduce trains blowing their loud horns to announce their presence. McHenry said she doesn’t have all the answers but is looking to the City of Houston and Union Pacific, which owns 90% of the tracks, to come up with a solution.

“For the city and Union Pacific to work together to come up with a solution on making sure the trains do not stop in residential areas. There should be other area they can stop, spend eight hours if they need to in that area without blocking,” she added.

In April, homeowners, business owners, city leaders and Union Pacific met to discuss the issues. Two months later, the East End District said it’s working with the rail companies on short- and long-term  solutions.

Jack Hanagriff is the Coordinator of Rail Safety and Mobility for the East End District. He said the average wait times for stalled trains are 30 minutes. He said now that the rail companies are aware of the community’s concerns, some neighborhoods are seeing changes, though not significant enough.

Hanagriff said the city may consider separating crossings with underpasses and bridges in the future with funding from an infrastructure bill.

“We just issued a block crossing proposal to the railroad to say of you do this, don’t do this if you can. Don’t block these crossings but if you do, notify Houston emergency services of why the blockage, how long the blockage is going to be,” Hanagriff said.

Hanagriff said if a crossing is blocked for an extended period of time, they may ask the rail companies to separate the cars so traffic can go through. He also said it’s going to take cooperation from the rail companies and them communicating with one another daily so that their operations and the communities can coexist.