Video shows Houston East End residents walking under blocked trains, leaders meet to find solutions
HOUSTON - Residents on the East End reported that blocked trains remain an issue in their neighborhood.
Videos posted online shows people walking under blocked trains often - a recent clip shows two women walking underneath a train with a baby and other young children near the intersection of Eastwood and Rusk Streets.
The camera is operated by Paulette Kukuk, a member of the Eastwood Civic Association. She told FOX 26 that blocked trains leave residents stuck as they travel home, to school, or work for hours at a time.
"My first concern is that they'll get stuck," said Kukuk. "That somehow their little feet will get caught where they shouldn't, and they won't be able to get them out. The other concern is when the train stopped for so long how emergency vehicles get to where they need to go?"
Videos posted on the Train Abuse Instagram account show a fire truck and EMS vehicle approaching a crossing where there's a blocked train. Jack Hanagriff, the Rail Safety and Mobility Coordinator for the East End District, said Fire Station 18 on Telephone Road is severely impacted by this issue.
"We looked at Station 18 because it was also compounded with citizen complaints," said Hanagriff. "Based on that area, they'd had the most citizen complaints in a year than the entire nation. It led the nation and block crossing complaints to the Federal Railroad Administration."
Hanagriff said the increased commodity needs and lack of crews to work the trains create an average of 114 trains that pass through the East End per day. Weather can also play a role in how fast trains move through.
The Federal Rail Administration, several rail companies, and U.S. Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia have met with residents about this problem in the last few months. FOX 26 attended the Town Hall in February when neighbors pleaded with the FRA to change how trains operate in their area.
Hanagriff reports some improvements have been made since then. Railroad companies are starting to consolidate their resources into one operating area through dispatch - making communication easier between them. Mapping capabilities now include trouble spot crossings. The FRA's Rail Crossing Locator app and website allow residents to report a problem at crossings.
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Despite the improvements, residents on the Instagram page still report issues with submitting information or navigating through the neighborhood. Hanagriff strongly advised residents to avoid walking under stopped trains or driving their cars around crossing their arms to get to the other side of the tracks.
"We're all part of the human factor...as a motorist or pedestrian or cyclist," said Hanagriff. "Your behavior can contribute to a stop-crossing event as well as the railroads. We're all contributing to it. So if everybody's doing what they're supposed to do, including the railroads, we can reduce these types of events."
Kukuk will continue to monitor her neighborhood through surveillance. She hopes the videos will make it to federal leaders, and push for legislation to be drafted to help the community.
"I know that they can do this," said Kukuk. "They have the ability, they have people who know what they need to do. They have the money to do it, and it takes someone in the federal government to put forth a bill and try to get it passed."
U.S. Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia released a statement to FOX 26 about the issue:
"As part of my efforts to tackle the issue of blocked roads in our communities, I filed the "D-Bloc Act" which would place penalties on railroads when their trains block a road crossing for more than 10 minutes. We are actively reaching out to Members of Congress to co-sponsor this bill, but we can't do it alone. We need your help to make sure your representative knows that this is a crucial matter that affects us all - children that walk to school, ambulances on an emergency call, and police and fire responding to a call for service. Working together, we can put an end to this problem and make our communities safer and more accessible for everyone."