Busy rail corridor along U.S. 377 could get busier

Posted Sunday, Jul. 20, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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The ritual plays out an average of 26 times per day in far north Fort Worth, Keller and Roanoke.

A Union Pacific Railroad train rolls down the tracks parallel to U.S. 377, often bringing dozens of vehicles to a halt at intersections such as Bear Creek Parkway, Keller Hicks Road and Henrietta Creek Road.

For motorists, the U.S. 377 corridor is one of the busiest places in north Tarrant and south Denton counties. And, it may soon be a lot busier.

The Omaha, Neb.-based railroad plans to add a second rail line and make other improvements over about five miles of track along U.S. 377, stretching roughly from Kroger Drive near the far north Fort Worth-Keller city limits to Texas 114 in Roanoke. The work could begin as soon as next year and would take about nine months, officials said.

Residents who live or work along the route said they’re not surprised by the planned expansion, based on the heavy rail traffic that has moved through the area for years. Often, trains will park on the tracks and wait for clearance to move through downtown Fort Worth, about 10 miles to the south — where the Tower 55 railroad intersection of Union Pacific and BNSF Railway tracks is chronically congested.

“Sometimes we’ll see a train parked there, and then come back two or three hours later and it’s still there,” said Chuck Deiley, who along with his wife Janet regularly walks under the tracks on a Bear Creek Park trail in Keller. The trail features a small tunnel under a railroad bridge that leads joggers, walkers and cyclists safely under the tracks.

The rail construction isn’t expected to directly impact traffic on U.S. 377, but could require modifications to — or in some cases complete reconstruction of — many cross streets.

For example, Keller and Fort Worth might be compelled to rebuild the Keller Hicks Road crossing years ahead of schedule. The railroad crossing is very close to the border between the two cities. Residents for years have asked for the crossing to be converted to a quiet zone, so that train operators don’t have to sound their horns.

But for cities footing the entire bill themselves, making intersections safe for a quiet zone can be very expensive.

Rather than look at the upcoming railroad construction as a negative, Keller city officials view it as a possible opportunity to make needed improvements at a reduced cost, Mayor Mark Mathews said.

“We’ve had some plans we’ve wanted to do for the infrastructure in Old Town Keller that will really drive economic development,” Mathews said. “One of the things we’ve been looking at is a pedestrian crossing connecting Keller Sports Park with Old Town Keller. We’ve had price tags as high as $5 million, but we might potentially reduce that by a couple of million dollars if we partner with them.”

The city also could be asked by the railroad to help with utility relocation, and possibly the acquisition of property along the tracks, he said.

For Union Pacific, the addition of a second main line along U.S. 377 is part of a $680 million investment in capacity improvement and commercial facilities system-wide, spokesman Jeff DeGraff said. Of that, about $181 million has been earmarked for improvements to the company’s Choctaw Subdivision, stretching from Fort Worth to Denison.

In addition to briefing the cities along the U.S. 377 corridor, railroad officials have reached out to Tarrant County and the Texas Department of Transportation seeking help with the project.

“Each utility located within rail right-of-way will have a unique agreement that outlines who is responsible for relocation of such facilities,” DeGraff said. “There will likely be a mix of railroad, city and utility owners responsible for the relocations.”

DeGraff said the railroad tentatively plans to do the work in 2015, but isn’t ready to announce a specific timetable.

“We look forward to this project providing additional efficiency to our freight service throughout north Texas.”

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796 Twitter: @gdickson

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