Humphrey is a town divided.
Not by political or social issues, but by railroad tracks.
Humphrey Mayor Cleveland Hatch is frustrated with Union Pacific after trains have blocked the town’s two crossings on Mulberry and Division streets multiple times in recent weeks. One incident saw a train stopped for six hours, blocking off an entire section of town from police, ambulance and other emergency services — it also kept residents from being able to conveniently leave the town for business or recreation.
Any alternate routes are miles away.
“Union Pacific Railroad is blocking both crossings here. On Jan. 11, they stopped at 6:30 p.m. and blocked both crossings for six hours,” Hatch said “It was 12:30 a.m. before they moved it. The problem they said is that the crew was out of hours, and they had to get a relief crew to come in to move the train.
“They are denying the citizens of Humphrey access to emergency and safety if you need the fired department, an ambulance or police. We have citizens on the south end of town who were denied access that could put them in harm’s way.”
While Hatch was told that the crew on the train ran out of hours and had to be replaced by a relief crew, Union Pacific said that their rail yard in Pine Bluff was backed up, and the tracks experienced congestion.
“Union Pacific’s Pine Bluff Yard experienced some congestion on Friday, Jan. 1,” said Union Pacific Corporate Communications Manager Kristen Smith. “As a result, the crossings were blocked for an extended period of time in Humphrey. We know that is frustrating for drivers, and we apologize. The congestion was cleared up and the train was moved late Friday. We have not experienced those issues since.”
While Union Pacific says there haven’t been any issues since, Hatch noted that there have been instances since Jan. 11 where the crossings have been blocked. Hatch said the problems began back in October 2017.
“This is an ongoing problem,” Hatch said. “In October of 2017, we had a train that blocked the crossings for over an hour. We had school kids that couldn’t get to school. Both school buses came, but couldn’t get across because both crossings were blocked, so they couldn’t get the school kids.”
Hatch said he doesn’t believe Union Pacific’s reasoning for the blockages.
“They are going to tell you that this is not a problem, but it is an ongoing problem,” the mayor said. “One time is too many for the safety of our citizens who don’t have access to emergency equipment that may be needed.”
Hatch is hoping that the situation can be resolved with UP giving consideration to his town in the future anytime a train is required to stop in the area.
“Between Stuttgart and Pine Bluff there, are several side tracks that they could stop a train on so the main line will be free to have access to it,” Hatch said. “Or, for our city, they could do two things. Stop the train before it blocks both crossings or leave one crossing open for the use of our citizens and emergency vehicles. Or, they could break the train so we have access to one or both crossings. The main thing is we need to have at least one crossing available for the citizens to utilize.”
Hatch said that he sent a certified letter to Union Pacific notifying them that the city would hold them liable for any incidents that happen when trains block the crossings, which would deny emergency services to the citizens.
“I am concerned about safety,” Hatch said. “I put them on notice that if something happens, they will be liable for any type of situation that may happen or may occur here.”
Hatch keeps a record of the train blockages in case a situation arises when emergency personnel cannot access the location of a call.
“We had another instance on Jan. 16 where a train blocked the crossings for about 15 minutes,” Hatch said. “That, still, is too long. Then you had the situation where a train blocked the crossings for hours and hours. That is just unacceptable. We have instances where they come out and stop for maybe five to 15 minutes at a time, but that is still too long. It is a nuisance for us.”
Union Pacific says that anyone can call the Union Pacific’s Response Management Communications Center at 1.888.877.7267 to report a blocked crossing.