Folks in an East Texas town are calling it "a potential disaster." Union Pacific Railroad has just gotten federal permission to nearly double its speed limit through Gladewater, raising it to 70 m.p.h. instead of 40 m.p.h. limit in place now. Union Pacific officials say track improvements have allowed for this to happen but residents don't want the faster trains running near their homes.
"They have the training but do they have enough equipment and enough personnel to handle a chemical derailment," said Robert Stanley Sr., who's concerned about the increase in speed. Stanley Sr. and his son are regular customers of Paradise Pizza, a restaurant that sits about 150 feet away from the railroad tracks that run through Gladewater.
"Derailments have no problem increasing 200 feet away from the tracks. So, we can have cars sitting in the middle of this restaurant where we're sitting," said Robert Stanley Jr.
There are seven railroad crossings that go through the city. "There's only one with a blockade," said Paradise Pizza owner Karla Byrd. "This one doesn't and the other one down there doesn't have one."
If the trains were to go off the tracks, City of Gladewater Fire Chief Wayne Smith says there's no telling how long it would take to clean it up. "We have mass chemicals, railroad tank cars that are being transporting chlorine and other chemicals right through downtown Gladewater," said Smith.
Another concern is that the fire department is one this side of the tracks so if something were to happen firefighters would have to go around their loop in order to get to the other side.
Union Pacific says increasing the speed limit to 70 m.p.h. for freight trains and 79 m.p.h. for passenger trains will not pose a safety issue. "The speed limit does not affect the way we transport materials across the country. Again, the statistics show that railroads are the safest way of transporting all sorts of materials across the country and we certainly take pride in that," said Union Pacific Railroad spokesman Joe Ardona.
But officials aren't convinced. "Sooner or later there's going to be a train derailment. Sooner or later there's going to be an impact at a railroad crossing. Is that going to happen in Gladewater, Texas? I can't tell you that," said Chief Smith. He says all he can do is make sure that his four firefighters are as best prepared as possible.
The mayor of Gladewater, John Tallent, says Union Pacific has not contacted city officials to discuss the issue. Mayor Tallent says there's little the city council can do about the matter. However, he says city officials will discuss this at their next meeting, scheduled for June 15th. The gradual increase is set to begin next week and will be complete by July 10th.