By Moses Leos III
Dozens of vehicles sat waiting to cross over the train tracks on Center Street in Kyle last week, their owners’ frustrations growing with each minute they idled in the hot late-afternoon sun. The railroad barrier gates were down as the lights flashed, warning drivers a train was coming.
Yet no train ever crossed through the intersection.
“It’s kind of like hurry up and wait. I’ve never been stuck in line this long before,” said Kyle resident Julia Connell, who said she’d been waiting about 10 minutes.
Other drivers said they waited much longer.
Joseph Collins, who works at the Dark Horse Lodge on Center St. said he had already been waiting 45 minutes.
“I was supposed to be at work at 6 p.m.,” he said. “I can see [the bar]but I’m stuck here.”
Collins said it seems he gets stuck in line of train traffic three times a month.
Those who were close enough to the tracks may have seen a Union Pacific train off to the south of the railroad crossing. It sat there, unmoving.
Mike Fulton, a Kyle resident who was campaigning for city council candidate Shane Arabie on the first day of early voting, talked to the train engineer. The engineer called for help with the malfunctioning gates, but it would be a while before help arrived.
Buda resident Armando Gallegos felt stuck.
“You can’t go anywhere where you can go across,” he said. “There isn’t an escape route.”
The train was blocking another crossing just south of Center St.
Kenda Gonzales of Lockhart said she waited about 30 minutes, unsure of an alternate route.
“I don’t know which other way to go to get around the tracks,” she said. “I know Burleson is down there (pointing in that direction), but I don’t know how far I have to go to get around the train. I just have to wait. Good thing I’m a calm person.”
Not everyone was as calm. Drivers started going around the barrier gates from both sides.
After many vehicles wound their way around the barrier, a Kyle patrol officer appeared. He stopped a driver in a late model Jeep, though according to Kyle Police Chief Jeff Barnett, no citations were issued that day.
Barnett also said Texas peace officers used to have the authority to issue tickets to Union Pacific when its trains blocked an intersection for more than 10 minutes. But a change in the law removed that power.
An opinion by the Texas Attorney General’s office concluded, “Section 471.007 of the Transportation Code, which imposes a criminal penalty against a railway company if its train blocks a railroad crossing for more than ten minutes, is preempted by the federal Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995 and the Federal Railroad Safety Act.”
Essentially, federal law trumps state law, at least in this issue.
Drivers who didn’t cross the barrier said one solution is to build an overpass.
“Something like San Marcos did, an overpass,” Gallegos said.
Whether or not there is the political will to enact such a change remains to be seen,
For now, however, drivers may have to find alternate routes to avoid the Center St. railroad crossing. Oficials from Union Pacific did not immediately return a request for comment.