For 154 years, since the founding of the city of Bryan, trains have been an important part of the community. In fact, the budding community was founded because of the coming of the Houston and Texas Central railway, which had reached Millican before the Civil War halted construction.
With the war’s end, construction began again and the first train arrived in Bryan on Aug. 19, 1867 — and Bryan hasn’t been the same since. Almost a decade later, a site south of the fledgling community was chosen as the location for a new public college, in part because of its proximity to the railroad. That railroad allowed Harvey Mitchell to travel between Bryan and Houston so he could make the pledge of land for what has become Texas A&M University. That college required its own place to embark and debark students and others with business at A&M — in other words, a college station.
For nearly a century, trains provided a means of travel for countless residents of the area, to Houston and Dallas and to places beyond. With the arrival of easier air travel and better highways, though, passenger rail service in most of America disappeared.
But trains still play a major role in moving freight between cities and ports, and Bryan still holds to its designation as a railroad town.
While the trains are an important part of the community, though, they do bring inconvenience and annoyance to many residents. We’ve all experienced delays at railroad crossings as long freight trains stop traffic. And for people living in or near Downtown, the frequent blare of train horns as trains approach the 25 intersections throughout the area are a constant frustration.
Six years ago, an advisory committee began looking at ways to eliminate those horns through Downtown. The fruits of those efforts led the city to approve creation of a quiet zone through Downtown. Work is set to begin next month on the first phase of that project.
Some vehicle-train intersections will be closed, but the twin-rail crossings at Groesbeck Street will remain open after area residents asked the Bryan City Council to reconsider the decision to close it. Shutting down that intersection would have been a great inconvenience to thousands of area residents who use it daily.
Twelve intersections — 10 in the first phase — will be upgraded to eliminate the need for trains to signal they are approaching an intersection. Union Pacific Railroad will make some upgrades at those intersections and the city will add medians and other pedestrian improvements. Work will take a week to a week and a half at each intersection and some delays may be expected as the work progresses.
The first 10 intersections scheduled for upgrade are along the track between Main Street and Tabor Road, including West 32nd Street, East 29th Street, East William Joel Bryan Parkway and East Martin Luther King Jr. Street.
The Bryan City Council allocated almost $658,000 for the first phase of the project, but with material prices skyrocketing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, that cost most likely will rise.
Phase one should be completed by the end of the year, with work on the second phase expected to start before the first phase is finished.
One innovative solution will require the use of wayside horns, which simulate the sound of a train horn. The difference is that the wayside horns can be directed specifically at vehicles approaching the intersection and not at everyone within blocks of the crossing.
The quiet zone project is just the latest effort by the city council and the city of Bryan to recreate a Downtown that is the pride of the community. It began with the renovation of the LaSalle Hotel that had fallen on hard times after its start as a place for weary train travelers to spend a day or two while in Bryan. There have been bumps along the way, but today the LaSalle is an incredible asset to the entire community and a fitting anchor for the south end of Downtown.
Improvements to Main Street and Bryan Avenue have formed the basis of development and redevelopment throughout Downtown. A façade program has renewed and restored many store fronts along both streets. Restaurants have opened and prospered and events such as First Friday bring countless numbers of people, not only from Bryan and College Station, but from throughout the Brazos Valley and beyond.
All this has taken vision on the part of our city leaders, past and present.