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TRAIN TALK: Switch station may leave downtown Kyle

A stopped train blocking traffic in downtown Kyle is a familiar, and often frustrating, scene for area residents.  

If Kyle and Hays County officials have their way, such an issue could be a problem of the past. 

Discussions on relocating the Union Pacific Railroad rail siding, or switch station, near the downtown sector are ongoing between the city of Kyle, Hays County and the Texas Department of Transportation, Kyle City Manager Scott Sellers said. 

Sellers said moving the line is a safety and quality of life issue. 

“As Kyle continues to expand and add houses, especially houses to the west, there will be more of a need to relocate the rail siding,” Sellers said. 

Sellers said the city has held previous discussions in the past on relocating the siding. Roughly six months ago, the city began having in-depth conversations with Union Pacific regarding the relocation. Kyle also invited Hays County and TxDOT to the table. 

The goal, Sellers said, is to relocate the line adjacent to the main line that doesn’t interfere with an at-grade crossing. 

Union Pacific’s current rail siding allows trains to slow down or stop to allow a faster moving train in the opposite direction pass by. 

But the subsequent train traffic leads to gridlock in the downtown area, often leaving drivers attempting to bypass the blockage. Sellers said he has seen drivers speeding up to beat the train, in order to avoid stopping. Other times he has seen drivers go around the gates when there is no train present. 

Other times, pedestrians will sometimes crawl between a stopped train to get to the other side. 

“Our residents aren’t understanding that there are two tracks and there could be a train on the second track at any moment,” Sellers said. “It’s very dangerous.” 

The blockages have also affected emergency services as well. Sellers said city officials have witnessed many instances where fire, EMS and police vehicles cannot respond to a call on the east side of the tracks due to a stopped train. While the fire and police departments patrol in zones, stopped trains can affect response times, Sellers said. 

Kyle Taylor, Kyle Fire Department chief, said it’s “very common” for fire trucks to be delayed by a train. The problem has led to the installation of a “delayed by train” button, which relays to dispatch Kyle Fire vehicles couldn’t bypass a train. 

“Most of the city and residents know that it’s a nightmare,” Taylor said. “When they are stopped, they sometimes stop at 4 p.m. Traffic is backed up in all directions.” 

In order to alleviate the issue, the city must rely on outside funds to move the rail siding, which is estimated to cost $1.5 million. The amount doesn’t include any potential drainage improvements or adjustments or property acquisition. Sellers said Union Pacific doesn’t participate in the cost of construction if it’s a city requested construction. 

Other entities and officials, however, recognize the problem, Sellers said.  

Earlier this year, the Hays County Commissioners Court earmarked $1.5 million toward relocating the rail siding in the $131.4 million road bond, which goes to voters this November. 

Last weekend, Sellers met with Congressman Lloyd Doggett regarding possible federal funding. During their conversation, two trains were stopped on the tracks, blocking traffic on Center Street. 

But Sellers said state and federal funding is necessary. If state and federal funding isn’t approved during the 2017 Legislative Session, the city will not continue with the project, Sellers said. 

In the interim, the city will begin preliminary engineering, which will aid in determining the cost estimate for the project. 

Factors such as quiet zones, drainage crossings will be taken into consideration.

“We are addressing today’s need and implementing the future need by working on this today,” Sellers said. “If we are unsuccessful in this legistlative session, we’ll continue to explore funding.” 

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