In an out-of-the-way neighborhood where Ogden and Marriott-Slaterville meet, residents and business people get trapped by freight trains with no way out, sometimes for hours.
Scott Van Leeuwen owns a pawn shop in downtown Ogden and drives to and from his home in Marriott-Slaterville every day, often using 17th Street.
The trouble spot has a reputation, not just with the people who live inside the trap zone, he said.
“Everybody gets affected,” he said. “You can live on 38th and Jefferson and you can say you hate that train in Marriott-Slaterville.”
Perhaps the biggest problem is that one long Union Pacific train can block two crossings at once — the one on 1200 West in Marriott-Slaterville and the other in Ogden on 17th Street west of Wall Avenue.
Judy Nye lives in the trap zone, on the 1400 block of 1200 West. She’s been the neighborhood spokeswoman the last few years, repeatedly discussing the problem with a Union Pacific official in Salt Lake City.
She’s also talked to Van Leeuwen, who is Marriott-Slaterville’s mayor.
The train blockages fit a pattern of worsening delays along the northern Wasatch Front. Train traffic has increased in the Ogden area, and a Union Pacific representative said a major operational change the railroad implemented last fall has resulted in some of the issues.
“We’re seeing longer trains,” said Union Pacific corporate spokeswoman Kristen South in Omaha, Nebraska.
The company’s new philosophy focuses on freight cars more than trains.
“Rather than wait for a train until it’s ready to go, we are moving (freight cars) on the network,” she said.
Nye is not very sympathetic to the railroad’s operational needs because she’s worried about the public safety threat to people when the neighborhood is cut off.
She said her nephew’s motorcycle crashed near one of the crossings and emergency medical personnel could not reach him.
“They had to call 911 to get the train moved, and he could have died,” Nye said. “Ever since then I’ve been kind of freaked out.”
Nye and Van Leeuwen said blockages were reduced during the summer of 2018 after they talked to the railroad.
“That worked for eight months and then they started doing it again,” Nye said.
She called again and “the guy kind of got nasty with me and said the railroad has the right of way.”
Nye said her neighbors include people with heart trouble, diabetics, and a 101-year-old.
“I just want them to work with me,” she said of the railroad. “It’s just been a nightmare with these people.”
If you want things changed, call your mayor, she was told, adding that she did just that and Van Leeuwen has been on the phone with rail officials several times.
Union Pacific said switching operations can be problematic and sometimes crossings must be blocked.
“We understand their frustration, and we know this has been an intermittent, ongoing issue in that area as we move trains into the yards,” South said.
She added, “It’s not ever our intention to block a crossing. We are working diligently to see what we can do.”
Union Pacific faced an outcry from Brigham City during the 2019 Utah legislative session. City leaders supported a bill requiring freight train crossing blockages to be limited to 15 minutes.
The bill died in committee.
“I can tell you that Ogden has become the Junction City again,” Van Leeuwen said. “There are a lot of trains coming through that didn’t use to.”
He acknowledged that “it’s hard to run a railroad partly in a residential area.”
Sometimes a long train stops just a few cars before its tail end clears the 1200 West crossing.
“They’re thinking they can go all the way into the railroad yards and find out they can’t get in,” he said.
“Their business is better than ever. I honestly believe they’re trying to do their very best.”
South said overpasses or underpasses are options for communities to resolve crossing problems.
“From Union Pacific’s perspective, we will just continue to try to be as efficient and respectful as we can,” South said.
Van Leeuwen said overpasses are “cost prohibitive,” especially for small communities. Nearby, where Union Pacific’s north-south rail crosses busy 12th Street, the Utah Department of Transportation has an overpass on the drawing board, but it’s way down the list as a funding priority.
The price tag is $50 million or more.