Hazardous Crossings: Area has most train/car collisions, locals demand safety improvements

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by Scott Noll / KHOU 11 News I-Team

khou.com

Posted on February 11, 2014 at 10:51 PM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 12 at 7:48 AM

Houston-area crossings on fed's Accident Prediction Report

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HOUSTON -- Texas has more railroad crossing crashes than any other state according to federal figures uncovered by the KHOU 11 News I-Team. And in the state with the most crossing crashes, Harris County has more train/car collisions than any other county in the Lone Star State.

In addition, despite state and county studies of the problem, victims and locals complain that officials have been slow to improve safety at some of the worst crossings.

Donald Moyers is reminded of his own loss regularly. His home sits near railroad tracks, with the horns of passing freight trains echoing in his living room.

“Oh yeah, it’s a lonesome horn”, says Moyers. “It doesn’t blow without causing memories.”

Six years ago Moyer’s granddaughters, 14-year-old Macy and 12-year-old Loral, died when the SUV they were riding in collided with a train at a crossing near Baytown near Moyers’ house.

Still grieving, he writes poetry to help ease his pain:

                   “People like us are different you know?

                    People like us, now watch other kids grow.”

Adding to Moyers’ sadness is the fact that at the time, the site was “unprotected”: It had no crossing gates or stop lights.

“You have to experience something like this to truly realize the impact what a problem we have out there” he says.

For example, federal figures show that in the last five years, Texas had nearly 850 crossing crashes.

Of those, 170 occurred in the Houston area.

The crossing with the most crashes in the state sits near the intersection of Mykawa and Long in southeast Houston. It has been the scene of eight train-car collisions in that same five year period.

It’s something that local residents have definitely noticed.

“That's just ridiculous” says Patrick Williams.”I mean somebody, whoever has the authority to really do something about it, should actually come out here and see for themselves.”

What they would see are four different rail crossings along with three intersecting roads.

For many drivers, just passing through it is a challenge.

“It's too much. It's really too much” said Janet Davis.

Rail expert Gus Ubaldi with the engineering firm Robson Forensic has another way of putting it. He calls it “a nightmare”.

“Mykawa is number one in the state for accidents” he said. “So right there, someone would be wanting to say, we should be doing something at this crossing.”

Ten years ago that was nearly the statement in a 2004 report commissioned by Harris County.

The authors of the study recommended that the county eliminate the crossings at Griggs, Mykawa, and Long and replace them with a series of over and under passes.

That recommendation still hasn’t become reality. Since the report came out in July, 2004, there have been 27 more crashes at the crossings near Griggs, Mykawa and Long.

TXDOT says it’s working with the City of Houston and the railroads on some improvements at the crossing like adding gates and timing traffic signals, but says there is no money to build the bridges that were recommended in the 2004 study.

The cost at that time was estimated at nearly $58 million.

But expert Ubaldi questions TXDOT's inaction.

“My estimate is that TXDOT has a budget of $8-10 billion” he says, “That's with a "b" dollars a year. $60 Million dollars then is pretty much a rounding error.”

For weeks, the I-team requested an interview from TXDOT however the agency said that no one was available at that time. Instead, TXDOT issued a statement saying, in part, “Safe is our top priority and as such, we have been planning to make improvements at these intersections for a while.”  

But residents near the crossings say words aren’t enough.

 “Actions speak for itself,” said Garry Potter.

His friend Jamaal Tutson agreed: “Actions speak louder than words. We ain’t seen no action.”

 And that troubles Moyers.

He worries, with the Houston area being home to eight of Texas’s most crash-prone rail crossings, doing nothing could prove deadly.

“We do have to start protecting our friends, our neighbors, ourselves,” said Moyers.

MAPS:

  • The 2004 Harris County study called for bridges to be built at nine different crossings in the Houston area (click here for a map). However, at this point, that hasn’t happened.
     
  • Click here for a map of the most crash-prone rail crossings in the Houston area according to a Federal Railroad Administration’s Web Accident Prediction System (October 1, 2008 – September 30, 2013).

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