Marked Tree Council hears proposal to close railroad crossing

Thursday, February 14, 2019

A representative with BNSF Railway spoke to the Marked Tree City Council Monday night about a proposed project to close the railroad crossing at Elm Street, which is the only crossing in town that goes over the tracks rather than under them.

The representative, John Caufield, said it was primarily a safety concern. He said there have been five incidents at the Elm Street crossing, one of which happened in the last year. BNSF did a diagnostic inspection of the crossing last year to see if there were ways to improve it. The crossing is very steep, but they cannot taper it due to its proximity to the the road, and it is also in a curve, which affects sight distance. "The best way to avoid an incident is to close the crossing. The safest crossing is a closed crossing," Caufield said.

If the crossing were closed, traffic would be diverted to Nathan Street. For closing the crossing, Caufield said BNSF was authorized to offer the city of Marked Tree an incentive of $50,000, which could be used for whatever the city wants. He also said that with the crossing closed, the city would be a de facto quiet zone, and there would be no more horns when the trains come through town. BNSF would also remove a nearby subtrack, and the city could use that piece of property however it sees fit. Caufield said the train speed limit would remain the same if the crossing closes.

Mayor Danny Johnson said the city was offered an incentive of $250,000 to close the crossing 12 years ago, and Caufield said that if a previous offer is in writing, they will honor it.

During discussion, the possibility of a pedestrian tunnel at the Elm Street crossing was brought up. Additionally, Mayor Johnson noted that ambulances and firetrucks do not use the crossing, so closing it would not affect their response time. Council members wanted to table the matter to get input from the community as well as to look at more options--such as a potential pedestrian tunnel. The idea of holding a town meeting was also brought up. "We don't expect a decision today. We just want to start the conversation," Caufield said.

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