For anyone who drives on historic Route 66 east of Pacific, it’s an ordinary occurrence to be stopped behind a line of cars approaching the U.S. Silica Plant silos.
Motorists are required to wait while train cars filled with silica sand are moved from the loading silo across East Osage Street (Route 66) to the Union Pacific Railroad (UP) main line.
Motorists also wait while lines of empty cars are moved from the rail line across to the plant property.
Silica representatives say the stop can be as short as 2 minutes and as long as 10 minutes.
Ten minutes can seem like a long time and often motorists make a U-turn to leave the line of waiting traffic and try to find another route to their destination.
The traffic stops occur four to six times every day. Since U.S. Silica operates around the clock, the stops can occur any time of the day or night.
The other side to this story is safety concerns for the U.S. Silica employees who are holding the stop signs and UP employees who assist with moving empty railcars.
Silica employees say there have been occasions when an impatient motorist skirted around the moving rail car endangering the man holding the sign. This prompted employee Steven Dishbein to post a message in The Missourian’s community box under an article about dangerous intersections and highways.
“I was wondering if you all would consider it and get the word out to readers about the dangers and consequences of hitting a worker who is trying to stop traffic,” he said. “I work down at the sand plant in Pacific and we haul rail cars across the highway and have had a few close calls with people not paying attention or trying to go around our stop signs.”
Dishbein, who works the night shift from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. has only been with the firm for several months. He said he was surprised that people would ignore flaggers and skirt around the moving railcars.
“We are dressed in yellow fluorescent gear and holding stop signs,” he said. “The stop signs light up at night and we have light sticks or wands that we wave to alert cars that we can see a long way off.”
Dishbein said he’s aware that people heading east from Pacific at the early hours of the morning are probably heading to work.
“You know, they may still be tired,” he said. “Sometimes they’re on their cellphones.
“Even though U.S. Silica has a very good employee safety record, it is a concern when you’re holding a stop sign and waving a light wand and a car continues to come toward you,” he added. “It’s pretty scary.”
Mike Lawson, who works at the U.S. Silica headquarters in Maryland, said the company understands that 10 minutes can seem like a long time to a stopped motorist and he hopes motorists will be patient.
“This is the business we’re in,” Lawson said. “We apologize to motorists for the delays, but we want everybody to be safe while this is going on.”
Scott Conroy, U.S. Silica Pacific plant manager, said there have been no accidents or injuries during railcar movement at the plant, but preventing accidents is the main objective of plant procedures.
“Sometimes people don’t follow directions,” he said. “We don’t want our employees to jump in front of the vehicle or attempt to interact with traffic.”
Conroy said safety of U.S. Silica employees and Union Pacific Railroad employees is a priority of the firm.
“Our employees are well trained and dressed in highly visible clothing and holding warning signs,” he said. “We want people to follow the instruction of the flaggers for everyone’s safety. We want the driving public to adhere to the stop signs.”