It happened with the suddenness of a runaway locomotive as the City of Van Alstyne lost three railway crossings from north to south within a span of just days.
On April 23, Van Alstyne City Manager Frank Baker was informed by Dallas, Garland and Northeastern Railroad, Incorporated (DGNO) that several unprotected railway crossings within the city would be shut down in less than two days due to safety concerns. The rationale behind the closures have to do with a change in train speeds which are increasing from 10 miles per hour to 25 mph. Vehicular traffic is being permanently diverted to protected crossings for safety reasons. Protected crossings — those with drop-down barriers and flashing lights and bells — reduce the risk of crossing accidents whereas the higher speeds now allowed making crossing at unprotected areas more dangerous, according to experts.
The protected crossings in Van Alstyne which remain open are at E. Jefferson (121), Tolson and FM 3133.
Crossings that have already been barricaded and closed are at E. Houston, E. Fulton and E. Van Alstyne Parkway.
Two other popular crossings are those at Austin Place and Martin Duke Road and they could be closed in the future. In an email to Baker, Kenneth Manka, DGNO general manager, stated that his company will apply for money to make Martin Duke a gated crossing. What the source of this money is to be — whether it come from the state or not — is unclear.
A problematic closure would be that of Austin Place as it leads directly into Van Alstyne Cemetery. If it is closed those going to the cemetery will have to either cross at Martin Duke (provided it is open) or cross at 121 then take a right on John Douglas. However, Austin Place remains open at the request of Baker, who informed DGNO that it was imperative it not be barricaded.
While the concern regarding increased train speed and unprotected crossing is legitimate, the potential closing of five east side crossings and the impact it could have on Van Alstyne residents on that side is real, as well.
“The safety of the citizens is paramount,” stated Baker, who went on to explain that the city is reviewing its options regarding the closures. Certainly City Attorney Julie Fort will be consulted on the matter, while City Council could even vote to have Austin Place converted to a protected crossing. However, estimates to make a crossing protected with lights and barriers can range from $250,000 to $500,000, not a cheap proposition by any means.
For the immediate future, Austin Place remains open and there are those who would like to see the other closed crossings re-opened, as well. A discussion of the railroad crossing closures is expected to be on the May 13 city council agenda.