You leave Douglas after you pick up your kid from school and head toward your home south of town. You cruise down Irvine Road, when, out of nowhere, a train is hurtling down the tracks right in your direction.
“It was dark; there was no reflection,” Kristina Moore recalled. “I had been blinded by a car that was coming towards me, so I didn’t have the best vision. I had to slam on my brakes in order not to hit that train, I mean, it was close.”
The train crossing at the Twin Eagle transloading facility on Irvine Road can make a driver uneasy even under ideal conditions.
“Those tracks have some deep curves,” Moore explained. “You cannot see around them if there’s a train coming.”
According to Moore, her daughter McKenzie Moore was the savior on the night of Dec. 11.
“I’m lucky she was with me, because I wouldn’t have seen (the train),” Moore said.
The crossing isn’t supposed to be that dangerous. According to the county commissioners, once the site gained access to electricity, the understanding with the company was that signage and lighting would be installed. Until then, personnel, or “flaggers,” would position themselves on both sides of the tracks to alert drivers.
Twin Eagle has failed to place flaggers, or at least enough flaggers, at least twice. Converse County Commission Chairman Robert Short has crossed those tracks himself.
“On Nov. 29 I was driving out there and two engines came across, no flaggers no nothing, and they came across going about 30 mph,” Short said. “They weren’t just creeping across.”
Moore worries that the crossing is too dangerous, noting that school buses cross there twice a day, and tankers drive through, too.
“It’s a tragedy waiting to happen,” Moore said in an interview.
The county commissioners expressed similar concerns. If there are no flaggers, at night, it’s up to the driver to remember to stop at the crossing. From one side, it feels like the train is coming from behind the driver.
“They’re putting some lives in jeopardy out there,” Converse County Commissioner Mike Colling said.
Not only has Twin Eagle not stationed appropriate flaggers, they’ve failed to install the agreed-upon signage: Electrical power has now been available at the site for four years.
“As far as I’m concerned, they need to step up to the plate now,” Short said in an interview.
Twin Eagle Senior Vice President of Engineering and Operations Eric Miller said in an interview that the company is working to address the issue.
Miller explained that in the future there will be flaggers with lights on either side of crossing trains, as well as flashing barricades and cone lights.
Miller also noted that part of the reason the crossing lacks signage is because when the most recent bust hit the county, Twin Eagle’s local business – the company mainly sells fracking sand – dropped precipitously, to a point where there was essentially no rail traffic at the facility.
With the recent uptick, rail traffic has returned.
In addition to fixing the flagger problem, Miller said the company is “evaluating automatic signs.”
Converse County Commissioner Jim Willox said he understands Twin Eagle can’t install signage instantaneously.
“If the flashing lights could be in by the first of June, I’d be happy,” he said.
“It takes a little time, because there’s a bit of engineering involved,” Miller said. “We’ve got this on our front burner.”