Ranchers in northern Quay County and county and state officials are asking Union Pacific Railroad to reconsider its proposal to close a railroad crossing on Quay Road L at Obar.
More than a dozen residents from Obar and Nara Visa, the county fire marshal and officials from the New Mexico Department of Transportation voiced their concerns to railroad officials at a work session held Thursday by the Quay County Commission.
“Our main concern is public safety,” said Luis A. Heredia, the railroad’s director of public affairs. “We are here to collect input from the residents that would be affected by this proposed closing.”
Heredia said the railroad’s initial proposal was to close the private crossing and move it two miles west on U.S. 54. The railroad has been working nationwide to close its multiple crossings.
A county official stressed that it was a crossing on a public road.
“The crossing located at Obar on U.S. 54 is a public roadway maintained by the county,” said Franklin McCasland, commission chair. “It has been listed as a public road on the county’s certified road listings.”
A private crossing is one that is installed with an agreement between the railroad and one user or family, Heredia said. A public crossing is on a road that is owned by a public authority and its traffic count is higher.
Residents who use the crossing argued that closing the Obar crossing would create hardships on landowners and create road hazards.
“The crossing at Obar is the safest crossing that Union Pacific has along U.S. 54,” said Rene Rinestine of Nara Visa. “The roadside park at Obar acts as sort of deceleration lane for ranchers in personal vehicles and those hauling trailers. The rest area allows ranchers to wait for the through traffic on 54 to pass.”
Rinestine said that if the crossing was moved west, visibility of traffic would decrease and without a deceleration lane, ranchers would have to wait on the shoulder for traffic to pass.
“I challenge anyone to park on U.S. 54, letting the semis pass you by as you wait to cross the highway,” McCasland said.
Officials from the NMDOT pointed out the safety issues that would be created by moving the crossing.
“In our opinion, moving the crossing would not be safest move,” said Henry R. Gonzales, NMDOT rail manager.
Gonzales said that the crossing could be left in place and lights and gates installed at the crossing to improve safety. This would be a lot more cost efficient than moving the crossing and creating a new access road for land owners.
Gonzales said that moving the crossing two miles west would increase road hazards for ranchers hauling trailers on U.S. 54.
Moving the crossing and closing additional crossings along U.S. 54 could affect and hamper the efforts of fire and EMS services, Quay County Fire Marshal Donald Adams said.
“We need every crossing available as it is to access the areas and residents that the fire and EMS provide service to,” Adams said. “We have to consider hauling tankers with water across those areas and vital response times for EMS ambulances.”
One crossing located one and a half miles east from the Obar crossing has already been closed, said Richard Primrose, Quay County Manager.
“The only other access to that land is to travel along a county road to a wire gate and create a new roadway to the old homestead,” said Paul White of Logan. “No member of the family owning that land was contacted by the railroad and told that crossing was going to be closed.”
A second crossing one and a half miles west is considered for closure by the Union Pacific railroad and the local land owner is trying to keep it open.
“That crossing allows us to access our pasture land,” said Ivy Ward of Nara Visa. “We received a notice from the railroad on their intention to close the crossing and we contacted them to reconsider.”
Ward said that when a Union Pacific representative came down to inspect the crossing, she drove him to the next access point which was Obar and he immediately began taking notes on things to change.
Heredia said input from the Quay County residents and governmental officials will be reviewed and considered on future decisions relating to the Obar crossing.
McCasland said since the crossing is on a maintained county road, any attempt to close it would have to be submitted to the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission.
“The PRC would contact the commissioners about the closure and we would fight it all the way,” McCasland said.