If you drive off post near the Misty Mountain residential area and hear the “ding, ding, ding,” of a railroad bell and see flashing red lights, it’s not your imagination. There is a new signal on the tracks.
The newly activated railroad crossing signal is located where Thunder Lane and Texas Road intersect, about two miles east of the St. Robert Municipal Center.
“We have had an active crossing there for years and years,” said Terry Collins, Directorate of Public Works, civil engineering technician. “With the growth of residential property and new families and homes, (we’ve been working toward getting) a working signal for several years. Finally, I’ve got that done, and now I am trying to make sure that anybody crossing the tracks, whether trash pickup, trucks, school buses, or personal vehicles, understands the crossing is now active.”
When the train is coming, motorists will see flashing red lights and hear the bell, which is on top of the signal. There are no arms or gates that will deploy when a train crosses because of the road grade increases in that area.
“In slick weather, a motorist would not be able to stop in time for the arms, so lights and bells is what they will see and hear,” Collins said.
The approaching train will either be doing 5 mph around the blind curve or 20 mph coming in to the installation, and Collins cautions, “a 150-ton train can’t stop that fast,” so it’s never a good idea to try and outrun the train.
Collins is rail inspector for the 18 miles of track from Bundy Junction, in Jerome, leading into the installation, and 27.7 miles of track total, which is all owned by the Army.
“My job is to maintain the rails,” he said. “I inspect and maintain the tracks, make repairs, and stipulate safety requirements for speed.”
While the Logistics Readiness Center oversees the actual train crew, Collins controls the speed limits and how the trains operate based on the conditions of the track.
Richard Pentecost, Transportation Motor Pool, wage supervisor, said the crossing has not been used for a while because of flooding in the area.
Now, with the crossing activated, Pentecost anticipates that Collins will keep the rail speed to 5 mph for about six months until motorists get used to having a working crossing again.
“Hopefully people can bear with us while we are moving that slow,” Pentecost said. “They will probably say they can walk faster than the train is going, so patience is key.”
The rail schedule is based on mission and requirements, so there is no regular time a train will pass through the area.
By regulation, a high rail truck performs inspections once a week, usually on Monday or the first part of the week depending on federal holidays, according to Collins.
“Weekly there is traffic, but actual train traffic is sporadic, so you never know,” he said. “You might have two runs a month or not have a run for two or three months. It just depends on mission.”
“During my tenure, since 2004, we have done everything from moving individual units to moving large substations to replace those on the installation,” Collins added. “I’ve had trains up to 44 cars at a time, so that’s a pretty good size train for our spur.”
The rail was originally built in 1941.
“The history records that we have indicate, minus the bridges, the rail was built in about 90 to 120 days, so there was a lot of material put in quickly,” Collins said. “They tell us Santa Fe owned the rail at the time, and it was transferred over to the Army in the ‘70s.”
He said rail remains the cheapest mode of moving cargo so the crossing remains active.
“It’s important for people to understand this is a working rail, so we can keep everybody safe,” Collins said. “If a train or rail car is coming, you’ll hear the bells and see the red lights, so come to a complete stop and let the train pass.”