City of Athens rejects railroad’s proposal to shut down road where train struck car, school bus
ATHENS, Texas (KLTV) - On the same day city council would vote to progress the process to make the intersection safer, a car was hit by a train on the tracks that cross Cream Level Road going through Athens. There are no safety gate arms, lights or other precautions other than a sign to warn drivers of oncoming trains.
The Athens City Council is now doing their part to increase safety measures by working with Union Pacific Railroad and the Texas Department of Transportation.
The intersection is the scene of both the collision on Monday and the bus crash in 2019 that killed Athens Middle School student Christopher Bonilla.
Mayor Aaron Smith was authorized by city council to sign a letter rejecting the proposal from Union Pacific to close Cream Level Road to all vehicles to completely eliminate the possibility of a collision between a train and anyone trying to cross the tracks.
“Cream Level Road’s pretty long and pretty narrow, and it would create safety issues if you close that road, because it would make long, dead-end streets where safety vehicles, such as fire trucks, would not be able to turn around,” Smith says. “There’s no good place to turn around, so we decided that it would be better if it was left open and install the safety measures at the railroad crossing.”
A statement from Union Pacific spokesperson Robynn Tysver says, “Ultimately, it is fair to say, Union Pacific believes the safest crossing is no crossing.” The statement also says, “we do have an ongoing goal of closing redundant crossings.”
According to Smith, the rejection letter is just one step in the process to get TxDOT involved so they can fund and install the safety measures.
“The City of Athens probably is not involved going forward. It’s going to be TxDOT taking the reigns from here, I believe; and, I do know they have drawn preliminary plans to make that intersection safer.”
In a statement from TxDOT Public Information Officer Jeff Williford, he says “we are currently working with the City of Athens to install crossing gates at this intersection. This will be funded by TxDOT.”
Mayor Smith says they do not know when the project to install the safety measures will begin or how long it will take to complete. These safety measures include warning lights, safety gate arms and painted warnings on the pavement as cars approach the tracks.
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