By David Kapitan
Today marks the one-year anniversary of the Union Pacific train, tractor-trailer collision that sent shockwaves through Wills Point, and shut down the Ash (also referred to as the Lybrand crossing) railroad crossing on the east side of the city.
The accident, which happened in the early morning hours of August 23, 2012, occurred after a tanker truck full of fuel driven by Charles Cecil Smith of Sulphur Springs became disabled across the Ash railroad crossing.
Shortly after the tanker truck became disabled, an eastbound Union Pacific (UP) train hauling 101 cars swept through the city and collided with the tractor-trailer hauling fuel, triggering a series of explosions that damaged the crossing and shook houses and residents in the area.
Fire departments and other emergency services throughout the county responded to the scene, limiting the amount of the damage to the surrounding area. No one at the scene, including the conductor and engineer aboard the train, the driver of the truck, suffered injuries.
Following the accident, UP opted to keep the crossing closed for the foreseeable future.
After the Accident
Discussions regarding the reopening of the crossing between the city and Union Pacific officials began shortly after the August accident, with UP Manager of Industry and Public Projects Andrew Hudanish appearing at the October 2012 Wills Point City Council meeting to express the railroads desire at keeping the Ash crossing closed permanently.
Council members discussed the fate of the crossing extensively, eventually siding with a long list of petitioners that had requested the crossing to be rebuilt and reopened.
At that meeting, UP advised that the process of rebuilding the crossing would likely be lengthy, due in large part to the manufacturing of a new crossing and the wait for an available work crew.
In April 2013, UP updated the status of the crossing, advising Wills Point city officials that the reinstallation of the Ash crossing would likely be completed by the end of 2013. Months later, in July, Wills Point Mayor Mark Turner stated, “The city is working with TxDOT, who has been put in charge of the project. TxDOT has supplied plans to the city for approval. The plans show the crossing being replaced in the prior location. We are requesting that the crossing be moved so that it lines up with Lybrand Street, which would negate the old zigzag pattern.”
Turner continued, “Since the new city manager (Mike Ohrt, who began working on Monday, July 15) was starting within two weeks of receipt of the plans, I requested that we wait until he gets here so that he may be involved from the beginning. The next step will be for the city and TxDOT to meet with Union Pacific.”
This week, Turner provided the latest development in the reinstallation of the crossing, stating, “Mike Ohrt and I met recently with Union Pacific regarding the replacement of the crossing. The crossing is scheduled to be replaced within the next six months. The current outlook is to have it done before the end of the year. At the meeting, we discussed what would be required to move the crossing so it would be more in line with Lybrand Street.”
Turner continued, “The estimated cost of reengineering the crossing was about $50k, which the city would have to fund. We opted to leave the location in the original spot. Union Pacific has set the funding for the project. TxDOT is funding the crossing arms and control mechanisms estimated to be about $125k. The city is responsible for replacing the roadbed leading to the aprons of the crossing. Previous estimates for the city funded portion of the work were about $50k.”
Plans For Ash Crossing Still In The Works
By David Kapitan