Union Pacific Railroad gains steam through Sugar Land

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In an effort to increase railroad traffic efficiency, Union Pacific Corp. has begun construction on its Glidden Subdivision line that runs from Houston to San Antonio. Union Pacific began Phase 1 of the project, which includes installation of a second rail line alongside Hwy. 90 in Sugar Land, in early August.

“We’re seeing a lot of expansion here in Texas just because of the growth in the economy,” said Jeff DeGraff, director of corporate relations and media for Union Pacific. “If you look at the railroad and railroad expansion, it’s tied to economic development. There’s a need for it, and we want to address that need. [This project is] moving higher on the priority list.”

Double-rail expansion

Phase 1 of construction is expected to be complete in spring 2015 before moving into Phase 2, which includes laying additional railroad track.

Each phase of construction is geared toward expanding Union Pacific’s capacity because of a surge in increased business activity and development in southeast Texas, DeGraff said.

“We’re looking to improve this rail line because we’re seeing a good bit of traffic with increased development,” he said. “It will increase capacity for us, and it will increase efficiency.”

The expansion in Sugar Land will connect with recently laid track in Missouri City from Ulrich Street to Gessner Road. Construction in Missouri City wrapped up in 2013 between Gessner and Post Oak roads.

Union Pacific ships raw materials, component parts and finished products. Gulf Coast business and industry is expected to benefit from added capacity and more efficient rail operations as part of Union Pacific’s expansion, DeGraff said.

He said a decrease in wait times at each crossing with fewer stops and slowdowns is a planned mobility improvement as a result of installing the new line. With the second track installed, Union Pacific has the ability to run two trains between Houston and San Antonio at any time.

“As you improve the efficiency in one segment, it will ripple across the area,” DeGraff said.

In any given 24-hour period, an average of 28–30 trains pass through the corridor. Although the number of freight cars can vary with each train, the completion of the double-track project will not have an immediate effect on the number of trains that traverse the area, DeGraff said.

“Looking toward the future, should the economy continue to grow, and our customer orders increase, then this project will allow us to be prepared to meet that demand,” he said.

Road closures

Construction will continue to result in a series of intersection closures at various crossings. Closures began Aug. 14 starting with the crossing at Wood Street. Each closure is for initial grading and leveling to be performed at each crossing and will last for approximately two weeks, according to city documents.

Other scheduled crossing closures between August and October in Sugar Land include: Brooks, Ulrich, and Main streets. Dates for closures at Eldridge Road, Gillingham Lane, Schlumberger Drive, Industrial Boulevard., and Dairy Ashford Road have not been announced.

Before each crossing closure, Union Pacific installs message boards two weeks ahead so that drivers can plan alternate routes in advance.

“It’s very important for us to maintain these lines of communication with the community,” DeGraff said. “We want [citizens]to be aware of the work we’re doing when coming into contact with our work.”

Noise mitigation

As Union Pacific continues with its expansion, the city of Sugar Land is making plans to relocate its wayside horns in the next six months, said James Turner, traffic engineering manager with Sugar Land.

Wayside horns are installed along the rail corridor at 10 stationary locations between Dairy Ashford Boulevard and the Nalco Champion entrance near the former Imperial Sugar Company facility.

These wayside horns provide an alternative way to warn motorists of oncoming trains. The horns are able to reduce noise pollution typically caused by trains because they direct the sound directly toward motorists, city officials said.

“Wayside Horns reduce noise levels in the community by providing a focused sound pattern directed down the approaching street, in contrast to the moving train horns that broadcast a wide sound pattern into adjacent neighborhoods,” said David Worley, assistant director of public works. “The installation of these devices along [Hwy. 90] has improved the quality of life for people who live and work along the rail corridor.”

In the next six months, work to relocate the wayside horns will continue. In addition, the city has plans to install another horn at the corner of Hwy. 90 and Easton Avenue to the north of the Telfair master-planned community.

Nearby residents and businesses can still expect to hear train horns as engineers pass through active construction areas. City ordinance does not prohibit trains from blowing horns in Sugar Land, according to city records, and engineers can sound the train horn if there is a hazard on the tracks.

In contrast with Sugar Land’s existing and incoming residential areas along Hwy. 90, the cities of Missouri City and Stafford have more retail, industrial and open space along the Union Pacific corridor. As a result, the cities have not implemented wayside horns along the Union Pacific line. In Missouri City, a majority of the land adjacent to the Union Pacific rail line is zoned as industrial.

“The expansion will add a track alongside the existing track through Stafford and Sugar Land to approximately Hwy. 6,” said Gary Smith, director of development services with Missouri City.

Additional reporting by John Rigg

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Connor covers Sugar Land and Missouri City businesses, Fort Bend ISD, city government and Fort Bend County. He joined Community Impact Newspaper in December 2014 as the Sugar Land | Missouri City reporter.
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