Allen Greer’s home is now more than five times farther from local police and fire departments.
That potentially life-altering difference is due to a closed railroad crossing roughly one mile from his home on the outskirts of Ponder.
Instead of the occasional flashing lights and lowering safety arms impeding traffic, the railroad crossing at T.N. Skiles Road — just east of the intersection with FM156 — has safety barricades and stacked building materials blocking drivers from the quickest access to town.
Seven weeks ago, Greer said, the nearby Kubota training facility had a driver in a low-profile truck damage the crossing. For a while, Greer and his neighbors were able to bypass the affected portion of the tracks, but workers with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway came out and tore up the undamaged sections and put up the obstacles to prevent drivers from risking the drive.
While it seemed workers were preparing to repair the crossing, Greer said nothing further has been done to the section for about two weeks.
“It’s absolutely killing us on T.N. Skiles [Road],” Greer said.
Jeanelle Davis, a spokeswoman for BNSF, confirmed via email Tuesday that a low-profile tractor-trailer damaged the section of track on July 24.
“BNSF is currently in discussions with the Town of Ponder to coordinate a timeline and arrange for repairs so that the crossing is reopened to the public as quickly as possible,” Davis wrote.
She added that BNSF is responsible for repairing the crossing itself.
Steffanee Moynagh, who also lives along T.N. Skiles, said the town of Ponder has posted signs to let drivers know large trucks can’t cross at the junction. For the time being, nobody else can either. She said the initial damage might have gotten some drivers stuck during an attempted crossing, “so the railroad came and put a blockade up.”
She said the closure usually adds roughly an hour to both ends of her day and makes her children’s morning commute to school more of a headache. Despite that, she joins many other local residents in being most worried about access to emergency services. The difference of seven to 15 additional minutes without help could be devastating.
Beyond the current inconveniences and safety concerns, Moynagh said the problem could get much worse if it persists for too long. She’s worried about the next big rain.
“It’s not an issue right now, but if it remains, our other two routes to Ponder will get flooded out,” she said.
Ignoring the head-scratching frustration at the intersection of red tape and liability, Greer said the response from BNSF has been the worst part for the community.
“They’ve been lying to us, making fun of us,” he said Monday. “I mean, I’ve never seen anything like that in my life.”
He said he was told railroad workers would repair the damage when the town of Ponder put up the proper signage warning away tractor-trailers. While the signs are now up, he said BNSF hasn’t upheld its side of the deal.
Davis did not immediately respond to questions about the allegation.
Greer also said he was derided by a worker when he offered to do the work himself.
“They laugh at you to your face because they know they’ve got you over a barrel,” Greer said.
While he feels he could complete repairs himself with leftover construction equipment from his previous career, he acknowledged railroad companies can’t have just anybody working on their lines. Greer said the problems with the railroad company have been going on for years.
Greer and Moynagh both said BNSF was meant to attend a meeting with representatives from Ponder, Denton County and Kubota, but that the railroad didn’t show up. Davis did not immediately respond to questions about the meeting.
For his part, Greer said he’s been communicating with the Federal Railroad Administration to get the matter resolved, which he said is basically just fighting fire with fire.
Gary Morris, Ponder public works director, confirmed the meeting was meant to have taken place but declined to say who did or did not show up.
“I really don’t have any more comments for any of your questions right now,” Morris said via phone Tuesday afternoon.
He said another meeting is scheduled for next week, and he might be able to say more after that.