BNSF installs new equipment to relieve wait times at crossings

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway recently upgraded their infrastructure at the Hettinger hub, adding a few pieces of equipment that should cut down crossing blockage time down to minutes, according to Amy McBeth, Director of Public Affairs.

Air hoses have been installed at both the east and west railway crossings. The hoses will help maintain the air pressure in the brake systems of the trains, minimizing the test time after cars are seperated and re-coupled. (Photo by Cole Benz/The Record)
Air hoses have been installed at both the east and west railway crossings. The hoses will help maintain the air pressure in the brake systems of the trains, minimizing the test time after cars are seperated and re-coupled. (Photo by Cole Benz/The Record)

By COLE BENZ
Record Editor | cbenz@countrymedia.net

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway recently upgraded their infrastructure at the Hettinger hub, adding a few pieces of equipment that should cut down crossing blockage time down to minutes, according to Amy McBeth, Director of Public Affairs.

So what was installed?

Air hoses at both the east and west crossings will cut down delays by keeping the air pressure in the train’s braking system. Most of the delay comes when BNSF has to check their brakes after they re-couple the cars together. This process can take up to an hour. With the air hoses, the cars can maintain that pressure before and after the train is separated, minimizing the amount of time necessary to check the system.

“You should notice a difference in terms of just those longer periods of time where there’s been a train at that crossing you shouldn’t see that now,” McBeth said. “It shouldn’t be an extensive period of time.”

Delays at the crossing have been an issue plaguing the area since the early 80s, when BNSF set up the hub in Hettinger.

“It’s been a problem since 1981,” Mayor Richard Wyman said.

Wyman said the city has tried to address the issue with the company for many years, mostly being transferred from representative to representative, and not getting much of a response.

“We have been working on [fixing the issue] for quite a while, but we kind of re-doubled our efforts,” Wyman said.

The issue hit its pinnacle during the 4th of July Celebration, when the pedestrian crossing at the end of Main Street was blocked by railway cars.

“It’s the straw that broke the camels back,” Wyman said. “That’s what kind of brought it to the head”

Members of the 4th of July Celebration committee contacted the company twice prior to the event, alerting them about the need to have that pathway open. Yet there was still a block.

The Hettinger Area Chamber of Commerce called that day to alert BNSF of the blockage and were told that the pathway would be cleared by 11 a.m. The pathway didn’t open until 8 p.m. that evening, according to Wyman.

Wyman said some attending the event took the dangerous route of crawling through the train equipment, he said elderly residents could be seen passing young children to others through the rail cars. Some not so daring were offered rides around to the railway crossings by some of the business owners downtown, shuttling residents to Mirror Lake Park.

“On the 4th of July there were a couple of businessmen that actually put people in their pickups and drove them around,” Wyman said. “Thank goodness we have people like that.”

Wyman decided to call the company again, this time he told them that if something wasn’t going to be done, they would be contacting their congressional delegation.

So far it hasn’t come to that, because during the latest attempt with BNSF, Wyman said McBeth was very helpful and saw some activity be put in motion, which was a very different outcome than in years past.

“Amy McBeth listened to our problem, and actually followed through,” Wyman said. “And as far as I know this is the first time it’s ever happened.”

Wyman said that if this system works, and the problem is solved, they won’t take any further action with their congressional delegation.

“I said we won’t engage our congressional delegation unless this doesn’t work,” he said.

Along with protecting pedestrians crossing the tracks, the other concern is emergency services being held up by a train. Wyman said that it’s imperative that these entities have as little delay as possible, when an ambulance is coming from an area south of Hettinger, such as Buffalo, the patient or patients have already been on the road for quite sometime, and a delay at the tracks can be detrimental to the prognosis.

“The main topic was pedestrian crossing, but we’re also going to monitor the other two crossings,” Wyman said.

Wyman is asking the community for assistance in monitoring the situation. If you are stopped at a crossing, document it. Write down the exact time of day you were stopped, the exact time you were able to cross, document the crossing you were stopped at, and document the date this occurred. These reports can be sent to Wyman at PO Box 608, Hettinger, ND, 58639. These documents can be sent anonymously.

“What we’ve been asking people to do is no matter the crossing, west, pedestrian or east, if you’re being blocked by a train document what day, time, what crossing it is, and I will field those,” Wyman said.

Right now McBeth said that the equipment is installed and that the crews are in the process of being briefed on the functions and capabilities of the new air hoses. The new equipment should keep things moving and improve the traffic at the crossings, McBeth said, but safety is always the main concern.

“Nobody wants to see people climbing around rail equipment,” McBeth said. “That’s extremely dangerous no matter what the circumstance is.”

McBeth appreciated the concern and said that BNSF tries to accommodate their communities when they can.

“We certainly value our relationship with the community and all the communities where we serve customers and where we operate,” McBeth said. “We do try to address these issues to the extent we can and this is an example of doing that.”