Drivers play daily waiting games with trains across Fort Worth. The reasons are long

It’s common across Fort Worth and Tarrant County to find trains at a complete stop or crawling along where tracks intersect roads.

By Seth Bodine, Fort Worth ReportJuly 18, 2023 9:30 am

From the Fort Worth Report:

The dinging bells of crossing gates and blaring horns of trains crossing roads is an everyday occurrence for Chad Beavers, plant manager of the family-owned business Cold Spring Processing. The business at 1300 Cold Springs Road near the Fort Worth Stockyards is surrounded by railroad tracks.

At least twice a week, Beavers said, trains block both exits from the business for hours at a time. Employees can’t drive through or out of Cold Springs Road, the main entry point to the business. But it’s more than an inconvenience — the business is losing money, he said. Trucks are stuck behind stopped trains, waiting to deliver grease from restaurants so the company can process it.

“It hurts us in our pocketbook because they’re not disposing of material here,” Beavers said. “And then it hurts them not being able to get back out to their (customers).”

Fort Worth’s status as a major rail hub comes with a price. It’s common across the city and Tarrant County to find trains at a complete stop or crawling along where tracks intersect roads. People — in cars, school buses, ambulances and big rigs — sit, and not always patiently, waiting for the trains to clear.

Over the past year, drivers sent hundreds of reports of trains blocking track-and-street intersections to the Federal Railroad Administration. Sometimes the trains are moving across the intersection for long periods of time. Other times, it stops for hours.

The administration is supplying nearly $87 million to build overpasses on five roads across cities in Texas where high traffic and rail crossings meet, including $17 million for an overpass at a railroad track crossing on Bonds Ranch Road near Saginaw. But it doesn’t put a dent in the long line of wasted time that drivers never get back.

Union advocates and industry experts say the reason for stops and delays is because train companies are making the trains longer as part of a profit-driven strategy called precision-scheduled railroading. Reductions in staff, shift changes and infrastructure also come into play.

Compounding the issue is that there are no federal or state laws in place that deter slow-moving or stopped trains, according to the FRA and the Texas Department of Transportation.

Rail companies in Texas previously could have faced criminal penalties if trains blocked a railroad crossing for more than 10 minutes. But in 2001, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that federal laws pre-empted the rule. The blocked crossing rule was removed from the Texas Transportation code in 2005.

The role of trains in Fort Worth and Texas

Rail plays a key role in the movement of goods that fuel the country’s economy. And for the past 20 consecutive years, Texas has been the No. 1 exporter of goods in the country, said Margaret Kidd, program director and instructional associate professor, supply chain and logistics technology at the University of Houston’s Cullen College of Engineering.

In 2021, for example, Texas exported $375.3 billion worth of goods out of the country from ports in Houston, Freeport, Beaumont and Corpus Christi, she said. Trains are a way to transport heavy materials like lumber, automobiles and grain to and from those ports.

“The majority of stuff that goes from country to country is by ship,” Kidd said. “Once these products get in the port, or have to leave the country … a train or truck is going to move this freight.”

Fort Worth is a major component of the network that makes Texas an exporting powerhouse. BNSF Railway is headquartered in Fort Worth. The city also hosts the Alliance Global Logistics Hub in far north Fort Worth, an inland port for transporting goods via air, rail or road.

In 2022, 2.5 billion pounds of cargo landed at Perot Field Fort Worth Alliance Airport according to Alliance. The Alliance intermodal rail facility placed or removed cargo units from trains 835,000 times a year, according to Alliance.

A train sits stopped on a crossing along Cold Springs Road on June 12, 2023. Cristian ArguetaSoto / Fort Worth Report

How many blocked crossings are there in Fort Worth and Texas?

Texas has the most reported train crossing blockages in the country, with 5,057 reports in the last 12 months as of July 6, according to a self-reported database by the public kept by the FRA. That’s more than double Illinois and Ohio, with the second and third highest number of complaints.

Train blocking a crossing? Here’s how to report it

– Crossings have a blue sign with a number to report a problem or emergency at crossings.

– Union Pacific encourages drivers to report issues at For emergencies such as vehicles stopped on railroad tracks, hazardous material release and safety concerns, call 1-888-877-7267.

– Report a blocked crossing by going to this Federal Railroad Administration website.

– Questions from communities about BNSF and its operations can be directed here.

The database includes 272 reports of blocked crossings in Tarrant County over the last year. These numbers are likely underreported. Some drivers may not report blocked crossings or are unaware of the federal reporting database.

Some have taken to social media to complain about the extended delays. One post in the Fort Worth Reddit asked if anyone else is stuck behind a train on West 7th Street, and racked up more than 120 likes and 50 comments.

Hector Macias, owner of Fort Worth Tile Company and a longtime resident of the Historic Northside neighborhood of Fort Worth, said some intersections are worse than others. One common blocked crossing is along Main Street.

“When I see the train coming, you just put it in park and you can catch up on all your emails and all the missed calls you’ve had during the day,” Macias said.

Macias was not aware that the blocked crossings could be reported.

Many reports to the FRA from roads in Fort Worth, Haslet and Saginaw cite being late to work or the frequency that the trains stop:

“I was made late to work,” a driver wrote, stating they waited 31-60 minutes behind a stationary train on Northside Drive in Fort Worth.

“This has been occurring at least (two) times per week over the past few months. Totally stopped train blocking pedestrian and automobile traffic,” another wrote about on a train Morningside Drive in Fort Worth, waiting for 16-30 minutes for a train to move.

Others report people on foot climbing over, on or between train cars to cross, or a train blocking emergency response vehicles.

Matt Zavadsky, spokesperson for Medstar, said it’s not uncommon for crews to be blocked by trains while responding to a call, or in some cases, while on the way to a hospital. He said 103 ambulance responses in the past 30 days have been delayed by a train as of May, or 6.5% of total responses. If an ambulance is blocked by a stopped train, the Medstar’s communication center will send out another crew to respond to the call, he said.

“Like 98% of the time that we’re bringing someone to the hospital, their medical care is being well managed in the back of the ambulance, so there’s no rush to get them to the hospital,” he said.

In a more time-sensitive situation, the crew can use their onboard routing system to cross the train ahead or behind the train in order to seek passage, or the communication center will contact the train company to figure out the best way to cross, Zavadsky said.

Truck drivers deliver grain from the silos in Saginaw to mills and other customers. Seth Bodine / Fort Worth Report

Gwyn Tidwell is co-owner of SMT Trucking LLC. The trucking service hauls grain from the silos of Saginaw to mills, and also faces frequent blockages because of stopped trains.

When farmers harvest wheat, they bring it to grain silos like Viterra in Saginaw. Tidwell’s business hauls that grain from the silo to processors that turn it into products like bread.

Their business usually hauls grain eight times a day. It’s a race against time. They can haul only from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. And Tidwell estimates drivers usually miss one to three loads of grain a day because of train delays, she said. That means losing $63 to $185 a day, she said.

“Every time you’re delayed by train, it eats into you being able to get another load,” Tidwell said.

Cars wait at a crossing in Saginaw as a train passes on May 23, 2023.
Seth Bodine / Fort Worth Report

Saginaw’s roots are in rail. The town grew because a railroad made the town the last stop on southbound routes to Fort Worth in the 1800s, according to a history report from the city of Saginaw. Grain silos and mills moved to be near the railroad for transportation.
Tidwell, who grew up in Saginaw, said while the railroads have always had a presence in town, blocked crossings have gotten worse over the years. She has noticed the trains have gotten longer.

“You’ve got these trains that are several miles long,” Tidwell said. “Well, that’s just ridiculous. … People shouldn’t have to wait for that extent.”

Train company, union reasons for blocked crossings differ

BNSF spokesperson Lena Kent did not provide a precise reason for why trains completely stop or block crossings for long periods of time while crossing in an email to the Fort Worth Report. However, she did acknowledge they’ve been impacted by “tremendous population growth around our Fort Worth infrastructure over the last several years.”

“In the event that there is an issue with one of our trains, or any other interruption to our service at any location along our network, our crews work to efficiently and safely resolve the issue and resume the movement of the train,” Kent wrote.

Union Pacific trains could be stopped for a variety of reasons, the company’s spokesperson Robynn Tysver wrote in an email. That includes, weather conditions that cause track damage, “signal malfunctions, trains operating under reduced speed restrictions, mechanical issues or switching operations, which includes moving rail cars between tracks, adding or removing cars from a train or moving rail cars into and out of a customer’s facility,” Tysver wrote.

But Kamron Saunders, Texas state legislative director for the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, the union which represents rail workers, said the issue comes down to labor and the length of the trains.

Crews can work only 12 hours a day and have to stop the train wherever they are when that time is up, Saunders said. If a train isn’t at the destination yet, they have to stop where they are for a shift change, he said.

“If I get called for noon today at midnight, I’ve got to stop the train,” Saunders said. “If they haven’t gotten me to my destination, they’ve either got to have another crew out there to relieve me, or find a spot for me to leave this train.”

Longer trains are also tied to a business strategy adopted by the majority of train companies called “precision-scheduled railroading,” which Saunders said only takes in account profits.

“The railroads are pretty much reporting to Wall Street,” Saunders said. “It’s all about making money for the stockholders and that’s their only care.”

BNSF’s spokesperson said the company does not use precision-scheduled railroading. But Chris Bond, a former BNSF employee who worked for the company for 25 years now with the local union, said it still comes down to the company wanting to run bigger, longer trains.

Part of the problem is that there isn’t enough infrastructure for long trains to pass each other on a single-track with what’s known as sidings, which Bond said can cause bottlenecks. There’s also only so many places the trains can stop without blocking a crossing because of the increased length, Bond said.

“Railroad employees do their very best to stay off the crossings,” he said. “But when the railroad refuses to listen to what we tell them about length to train, and stuff like that, we can’t really do much about it.”

Elizabeth Repko, a director in the U.S. Government Accountability Office, describes precision-schedule railroading as a management strategy that isn’t defined by specific protocols at train companies.

“Different railroads implement it differently, different speeds, different extents,” Repko said.

However, labor unions, railroad representatives and shippers interviewed by the office said the strategy is associated with staff reductions, longer trains and fewer locomotives. Staff at the seven largest freight railroads decreased by 28% between 2011 and 2021,according to a 2022 report. 

Railroads have cut about 45,000 employees in the past six years to lower operating costs, according to a Surface Transportation Board meeting announcement in April 2022.

As of 2019, the FRA had not confirmed whether longer trains are the reason for blocked crossings Repko said.

The administration confirmed in a 2023 safety advisory that the length of trains have increased. The railroad administration will issue a report based on information received through the blocked crossing portal about frequent blocked crossing, according to an administration spokesperson.

City of Fort Worth transportation and public works spokesperson Lara Ingram said the FRA does monitor blocked crossing reportings and periodically contacts the city to discuss. Ingram also said the city is looking into new technology to display real time data of blocked crossings in the area. The city also has a railroad liaison who communicates with rail companies about issues.

District 2 council member Carlos Flores, who represents the Northside, said blocked crossings are a source of frustration for many.There’s only so much the city can do because railroads are protected by federal law, he said. Flores said he has talked to BNSF, Union Pacific and Fort Worth & Western Railroad about solutions.

“Some things have been implemented but depending on the length of the train and what they’re transporting, it doesn’t totally eliminate the problem, nor would it,” Flores said.

Saunders testified in May before Texas lawmakers in support of a bill that would limitthe length of trains to 8,000 feet. That bill was left pending in the transportation committee.
On the national level, the bipartisan Railway Safety Act was passed to the Senate floor in May. It would require restrictions on train weight and length, among other rules.

Waiting for change

Elaine Tubre has lived next to a train track for 13 years in her house in the Berkeley Place  neighborhood in southwest Fort Worth, near the Fort Worth Zoo. The train horn shakes her house multiple times a day. It’s just part of her life now.

“When you live by the train track, you learn the pattern of the horn,” Tubre said. “It’s long, long, short, long, every time.”

Tubre has devised alternate routes to and from her home when the crossing is blocked on the train, but she still gets stuck at times. The crossing is near Lily B. Clayton Elementary. The biggest nuisance was when the train crossing guardrails went down and stayed there for two days, she said.

Crossings have a blue sign with a number to report a problem or emergency at crossings. Tubre wishes the other end of the phone line was more responsive.

“It was an automated line. So there wasn’t a person,” she said.

Union Pacific encourages drivers to report issues at or calling the 24/7 Emergency Response Center at 1-888-877-7267.

Representatives from Union Pacific, the trains that block workers and customers of Cold Springs Processing, have met with Beavers and other businesses in the area. The company said it agreed to separate trains and clear crossings during times when trains are parked on the siding and blocking the crossing.

Beavers said he is in a text chat with other businesses in the area and Union Pacific representatives to identify when trains will clear crossings. However, he hasn’t gotten responses lately. He wants better communication to know when the trains will clear. For now, he’s waiting.

“I just want better communication,” Beavers said. “The deal is I know they have a job to do, but we have a job to do as well.”

Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at and follow on Twitter at @sbodine120

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