Priorities not crossing

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

A train situation in two towns that straddle Texas and New Mexico is at a standstill, in more ways than one.

Texas has set aside funding for an overpass that would save border residents from daily traffic delays caused by trains, but New Mexico hasn’t.

The Texas Department of Transportation has earmarked about $7 million for the design and construction of an overpass, according to Steve Perez, an area engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation. Yet, New Mexico Department of Transportation officials have their mind on other projects.

“It’s not a priority to us at this point. We have other major (road) needs,” said NMDOT spokesperson S.U. Mahesh.

Every day, about 90 BNSF Railway trains rumble through a railroad crossing on U.S. 84 that divides Farwell and Texico, according to BNSF Railway spokeswoman Lena Kent.

In many ways, life in the rural towns has been shaped around the railway.
Drivers are used to delays at the crossings, where gas stations and curio shops are clustered.
Ambulances, too, are occasionally put on hold at the crossings on the way to Lubbock, according to Texico Fire Chief Lewis Cooper.

“It makes you feel bad when that happens,” Cooper said.

Farwell residents are caught at crossings more often than Texico residents, Cooper said. Transits to Clovis from Texico, on the west side of the tracks, are not impacted by trains, he said, but transits from Clovis to Farwell and Lubbock, or vice versa, are affected.

Cooper feels chance rules at the crossings.

“I can go by half a dozen times in one day and never get caught. The next day I get caught once or twice,” he said. “Basically, it’s a way of life. It’s status quo.”

Wayne Gruben, a Farwell city councilor and a chief deputy at the Parmer County Sheriff’s Office, doubts the overpass will ever happen in his lifetime.

“There is no place here to make a detour,” Gruben said. “It is out of our hands. We will have to wait until the town and states can get together and make arrangements to go forward with this problem.”

Others in Texico and Farwell just want a good night’s sleep. A small group of residents is lobbying to silence train horns that blare day and night.

“An overpass will take years to build. … We are trying to get some sleep next month,” said Donald Gunter, one of those Farwell residents.

Train-honking has been more noticeable since July 2005. That’s when a federal regulation was passed that requires locomotive horns be sounded as a warning to highway users at public highway-railway crossings, Kent previously told the Clovis News Journal. The regulation mandates train engineers blow their whistles for at least 15 seconds as they approach highway-railway crossings, unless communities near tracks establish quiet zones through the Federal Railroad Administration.

To establish quiet zones — in which a stretch of track is exempt from horn blowing, except in emergencies — communities must implement safety measures such as gates or lights near crossings and get approval from government entities, Kent said.
Texico city councilors expressed support for a quiet zone in a city meeting, according to Gunter, who plans to approach Farwell councilors with the idea next week.

Solutions to Farwell and Texico train woes may not be imminent, however.

Gruben and other Farwell city councilors said they are reticent to establish a quiet zone for fear the city would be liable for any accident at the crossing.