BNSF Railroad’s plans to add an adjacent track that may result in the closure of the crossing points of up to three city streets. The decision on which, if any, of the streets to close rests with the city.
Either way, the railroad’s project will cost Cleburne taxpayers roughly $1.5 million, Public Works Director Jeremy Hutt said during the workshop portion of Tuesday’s Cleburne City Council meeting.
“[City staff] is not looking for direction from the council tonight,” Hutt said. “We just wanted to present the information. It is a pretty hefty matter so we wanted to give council ample time to review and ask questions.”
BNSF’s Rio Vista to Midway Double Track Improvement project calls for adding a second track to their existing right-of-way corridor, Hutt said.
To that end, BNSF is interested in reducing the number of at grade crossings in Cleburne and has provided the city with four options for consideration, Hutt added, calling for the closure of zero, one, two or three streets at railroad crossings. All locations under consideration border the city’s east side.
BNSF plans to move forward with the project whether the city closes any streets or not, Hutt said.
“BNSF is not requiring us to remove any street crossings we have,” Hutt said. “They are essentially just trying to facilitate the conversation and incentivise us to the possibility of closing some of our street crossings.
“One thing BNSF mentioned is that they expect additional rail traffic from this project so there will be times that, because of the amount of crossings we have in the city, a train will be blocking the crossings that do exist. That’s why they’re interested in having some of the crossings removed, to eliminate or provide longer stretches of rail that a train can stay at without impacting or blocking a crossing.”
Under the option of closing no streets BNSF would install minor upgrades to the existing crossing points, Hutt said.
Should council vote to close one crossing BNSF will give the city $150,000 to spend at their discretion and the Texas Department of Transportation will potentially provide the city with $7.500 to help reimburse costs associated with closing the crossings.
Under that scenario BNSF would encourage the city to close either East Chambers Street or East Wardville Street.
By closing two crossings the city would receive $400,000 from BNSF and potentially $15,000 from TxDOT.
By closing three, the city stands to rake in $750,000 from BNSF and potentially $22,500 from TxDOT. Those closings would affect East Chambers, East Wardville and Hines streets.
Under the three closure option traffic would be diverted to East Willingham Street or the Henderson Street bridge.
“This will impact traffic,” Hutt said. “Police and fire said they will be able to accommodate this although they like to have as much access as possible.”
Cleburne Fire Chief Scott Lail agreed but said his department will work with whatever council decides.
“Obviously we want as many access crossings as possible in responding to scenes,” Lail said. “Usually we use the Henderson Street bridge but it’s sometimes faster to use East Wardville depending on where the incident is. If that and Chambers Street closed that diverts us to [East Willingham Street], which, depending on traffic, could hinder us, but we can make it work.”
Mayor Scott Cain wondered whether the affect on response times for police and fire would be negligible or problematic and whether such closures might further divide east Cleburne from the rest of the city.
Councilman John Warren, whose district encompasses east Cleburne, suggested closing the East Chambers Street crossing but leaving the rest as is.
As to the $1.5 million, the city will have to foot the bill for relocation of city utilities such as water and sewer that sit in the railroad’s current right-of-way, Hutt said.
“There are 10 utility conflicts where we have crossings through the railroad’s right-of-way that would need to be adjusted to accommodate their project,” Hutt said. “This is similar to when we’ve done road widening projects and required the gas or power companies to move their utilities. We own the right-of-way on our streets therefore they have to respect our needs when we widen a roadway.
“The railroad owns exclusive rights to their section of right-of-way. Therefore, we have to accommodate them and relocate at our expense our utilities that cross the railroad if they conflict with their project. So we will have expense to the city to accommodate that project for those utility adjustments.”
Huff, in answer to a question from Councilman Chris Boedeker said he will gather additional information as to whether the city will incur additional expenses over what BNSF has agreed to pay should the council vote to close any of the crossings.
“We do have traffic counts that we took earlier this year before COVID-19 affected traffic,” Hutt told Boedeker. “I can forward that information to you.”
BNSF’s timeline on the project has shifted, Hutt said, but they continue to move forward.
“They’ve completed 90 percent of the design phase,” Hutt said. “But they’re waiting for information on [requested crossing closings] because they want to incorporate those into their plans.”
Hutt suggested that the council revisit the matter during their May 26 meeting.
“This is a big decision for the community,” City Manager Steve Polasek told council. “That’s why we put it on tonight’s workshop agenda, to get you all to think about it.”