SALT LAKE CITY — Train switching operations sometimes last more than 15 minutes at urban railroad crossings, which has drawn a legislator’s proposal to crack down on the practice.
“This legislation came about because of the issues that we are having with the long stoppage times here in Brigham City, particularly on Forest Street,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Joel Ferry, said by email.
House Bill 205 would mandate that switching operations last no more than 15 minutes if they occur on roads that average traffic of more than 5,000 vehicles per day or when at least five cars are waiting to cross in either direction.
Union Pacific Railroad’s main tracks from Ogden to Pocatello, Idaho, run through Brigham City, splitting the older, eastern section of town from the growing but more rural area on the west side.
The Brigham City Fire Station is on the east side of town.
“If there’s a fire out west” when Forest Street is blocked by a train, “that is a problem,” said Dale Ward, Box Elder County chief deputy sheriff.
The sheriff’s office and jail is off Forest Street west of the tracks.
“I have been told people have spent 30 minutes waiting to get across the tracks,” Ward said. “I’m not that tolerant. If it approaches five minutes, I’m out of there.”
In addition to potential life-threatening delays, the stopped trains are a daily inconvenience for Brigham City drivers.
Ward said he lives on Brigham City’s east side.
“Every morning, I don’t even bother” going to work on Forest Street, he said.
He takes a roundabout route on State Road 13 — a longer drive, but one without a potential train wait.
Savvy drivers sometimes veer over to 600 North when Forest Street is blocked, Ward said, “but sometimes that one is blocked also.”
Kristen South, Union Pacific spokeswoman at corporate headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska, issued a statement about the bill by email Thursday evening:
“Our goal is to keep trains moving in a safe, efficient manner. For years, Union Pacific has been in discussion with the city, and we continue to discuss potential solutions with the mayor and the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Joel Ferry.”
No committee hearings are scheduled yet on Ferry’s bill.
Ogden drivers share Brigham City’s rail crossing angst, especially at 12th Street, one of northern Utah’s busiest roads.
“It definitely does pose a little bit of a safety issue,” Weber County Sheriff’s Lt. Matt Jensen said. “It can cause significant delays at times, especially for emergency response. I don’t want to sound like it is all the time, but it can be an issue.”
An overpass would solve the problem, Jensen said.
Utah Department of Transportation spokesman Vic Saunders in Ogden said planners looked at the issue when 12th Street west of Wall Avenue was repaved a few years ago.
“It would be $30 million, minimum,” Saunders said, and the project has not been funded or even proposed.
That could change at some point if rail traffic along the line increased, he said.
Concern about drivers waiting for stopped trains comes just a couple of weeks after Gov. Gary Herbert declared 2019 the “Year of the Train” in Utah. It commemorates the completion of the first transcontinental railroad across the United States, which was finished in Northern Utah on May 10, 1869.