City to work with BNSF to alleviate train troubles in Jonesboro

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - With two rail spurs in the city of Jonesboro, there is a lot of train traffic in the city. On average, 50 or more a day go along the Burlington Northern Santa Fe or Union Pacific rail lines.

Roughly 40 a day go through the intersection of Highland and Nettleton, stopping traffic for at least two or more hours and that's if they don't stop.

Now the city is working to alleviate the problem as more and more complaints arise.

To most Jonesboro residents, the sights and sounds of a train mean the same thing.

"That bothers people that's trying to go to work, pick up their kids," Chasity Mize said.

"If you gotta get your kids to University Heights elementary, that's a long one some days," Carolyn Ellis said regarding the railroad crossing on Airport Road.

While many of the trains blow on through, stopping traffic five minutes here and ten minutes there, sometimes, they stop completely.

"In the morning, they sit there an hour, maybe 30, 40 minutes...maybe two hours," Ellis said.

"I have seen one sit there for two hours before...two hours! And everyone is turning around and going the other direction," Mize told Region 8 News. "You're not gonna wait for two hours!"

It's a problem the city of Jonesboro told Region 8 News is a result, not only of the increased amount of trains that come through Jonesboro on a daily basis, but from the two separate spur lines that intersect in two places in the city.

"The trains, of course, have to yield to each other," Traffic Operations Engineer, Mark Nichols said. "So if there's a UP train already coming across these tracks, the BNSF train has to stop."

Nichols said the city has been in talks with BNSF to figure out what both the railroad and the city need to do to ease the problem.

BNSF recommended the city document the problems.

So for months, cabinets along the railroads have recorded data. They not only document when a train comes through, but how long it stops traffic for as well.

"A train stopped on Highland for as much as an 58 minutes...and that was during the school peak," Nichols said.

Cameras set up at certain crossings have recorded separate incidents. One, in which a train stopped on the tracks for 53 minutes.

"You can see the EMS unit that's caught in traffic and he gets out and tries to take another route," Nichols said, noting the video. "You can see the group of pedestrians that get caught in the congestion."

These create dangerous situations for the city and BNSF. Something Nichols explained is a huge liability.

"Whenever you consider there's 14,000 vehicles a day that traverse that {Highland} and dozens of pedestrians."

The city can fine the railroad anywhere between $200 and $10,000 depending on how long the trains are stopped.

"If they block a crossing more than 10 minutes during the day or 15 minutes after hours," Nichols said. "But we don't want to go that route. We want to work with BNSF."

So, in October, three senior officials from BNSF will be in town to talk with the city on what can be done.

"We'd like to know, one...just their constraints. What do they have to work with and if there's any solution as far as blocking crossings less frequently and for a shorter amount of time," Nichols said. "We're just trying to work with BNSF to come to a mutual solution to the problem."

The other option is to wait.

The city is looking for funding for an overpass at Highland. However, depending on how long it takes for the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department to approve that and then for the city to secure the funding and actually build the might take awhile.

The city hopes working things out with BNSF will solve the problem until they can get a more permanent solution.

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