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Tracks project steams ahead despite opposition

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At Argyle’s Feb. 23 town council meeting, a large audience of residents hoped to derail plans for a new section of railroad side tracks running parallel to the main Union Pacific track that cuts through town.

However, a railroad official announced that they were steaming ahead with the project that would allow the trains to park between Frenchtown and Stonecrest Road on the south side of town.

“Union Pacific contacted the town in November 2008 saying a siding of 9,200 feet in length was going to be needed between the existing sidetracks in Denton and Roanoke,” said Lyle Drescher, Argyle Town Manager.

“They had three potential locations: mid-town; the southern site south of Frenchtown to Stonecrest Road; and our preference, which would be north of Crawford Road. In an update last fall, the northern location was still under consideration, but then a request for utility locations in the southern site came in about a month or so ago.”

The final presentation unveiled at the council meeting by Steve Martchenke, manager of Industry and Public Projects for Union Pacific, was for the southern location.

“It’s one thing when you move to town and see train tracks, you know there will be trains running,” said Argyle Councilwoman Dona Schroetke. “These people will be looking up at trains idling right in their backyard.”

The sidetrack is needed to solve two existing problems for Union Pacific, according to railroad officials.

The first issue is labor related. Train crews, similar to airplane pilots and crews, are limited to 12-hour work shifts, after which a new crew is required. The crew transition, which can take up to 45 minutes, requires a parking space for the train which does not block vehicle track crossings.

The second issue is one of logistics. Railroad freight is ranked based on delivery priority. A train carrying a high-priority load means that low-priority freight trains must pull over, similar to cars giving clearance to emergency vehicles like ambulances and fire trucks.

“The Argyle area is a big bottleneck for us,” said Raquel Espinoza, director of media relations for Union Pacific. “A siding between the ones in Denton and Roanoke will allow us to bring trains forward more quickly.”

The siding “where” location decision was strictly economic.

“The mid-town location would’ve meant closing too many intersections and creating new roadways,” said Dresher. “The town’s first preference north of Crawford Road apparently involved drainage and trestle problems which made it very expensive. That left the southern site as the one the [Union Pacific] railroad selected.”

Because railroads have the same right-of-way authority that the state transportation department has, municipalities have no legislative power over decisions made within a railroad’s easement.

“The town can’t inflict any jurisdictions on Union Pacific,” Dresher said. “Basically, they can do whatever they want. We’ve been told construction will start in March or April and that’s that.”

Schroetke said that she and fellow town council member Jackie Thomas are working with area residents, Denton County Pct. 4 Commissioner Andy Eads, Flower Mound officials and the developer of the proposed Canyon Falls master planned community to see what they can do to stop the project.

Many of the affected residents found out about the project at the last minute, including Flower Mound resident Mike Flanagan, who lives on six acres at the corner of Stonecrest Rd. and Hwy 377 next to the proposed side tracks.

Flanagan said that the tracks would create a safety issue with vehicular traffic in the area, where several serious accidents had occurred recently.

“This is a disaster waiting to happen,” said Flanagan. “Trains stopping here will cause even more accidents at an already dangerous intersection.”

Schroetke agreed, saying, “If they put this siding in, it will affect the health, safety, quality of life and property values of people in Argyle, our ETJ, and Flower Mound,”

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