Colbert County residents fed up with train blockages

Sometimes, residents will be stranded for 45 minutes to two hours.

Posted: Oct 31, 2019 4:24 PM
Updated: Oct 31, 2019 6:55 PM

Some Shoals neighbors are at wits' end. They say Norfolk Southern trains use the tracks as a parking lot, blocking the entrance to their neighborhood.

What's known to most as the Pride Subdivision can be blocked for hours by trains. About 20 homes are located on Pride Landing Road off of Highway 72 in Colbert County and the only way into the subdivision is by going over train tracks.

"We could be stopped anytime from 45 minutes to two hours," said Mike Holway, who owns a home in the subdivision. "We miss our daughter's volleyball games. That's happened before. Kids have been late to school. I've been late to work. There is a physician out here who is on call and that causes an issue for him as well."

Colbert County Commissioner Charles Hovater said the blockages have started putting lives at risk, and he's fit to be tied.

"We've had an ambulance that couldn't get in, so we were gonna have to air evac the lady, and the train cleared about the time air evac was going to take off, so they transported her by ambulance," said Hovater.

A frequently-used public boat ramp sits at the back of the subdivision just off of Pride Landing Road. Hovater said the parked trains have blocked the entrance, causing traffic issues on Highway 72.

"It's going to be a real tragedy if someone doesn't take notice of this situation," said Hovater.

The trains belong to Norfolk Southern, and Hovater said the county has tried reasoning with the railroad company.

"They won't listen to our engineering department," said Hovater.

A road engineer, John Bedford, said they've had meetings with Norfolk Southern, and even shown them other potential staging areas where they wouldn't block a neighborhood entrance.

"When we ask them why they can't do that, I can't get an answer out of them myself, and if they can't do it, they need to explain to us why they can't, so we can explain that to residents and look for another alternative," said Bedford.

Holway said there's a simple solution.

"If they would just pull up another 30 feet, we could get through and be fine," said Holway.

Residents and Colbert County officials feel like their concerns are falling on deaf ears from Norfolk Southern. They hope the company will see this and do something about it.

WAAY 31 reached out to Norfolk Southern for a comment. They said, "Norfolk Southern is committed to enhancing the safety and efficiency of rail operations for our customers and the communities we serve. Norfolk Southern is aware of the concerns in Colbert County, Alabama. We are looking into the matter and working closely with our transportation team to review local operations. Norfolk Southern makes every effort to minimize the time that trains interrupt motor vehicle traffic at railroad crossings. At times, operational situations might require a train to stop or slow, resulting in a temporarily blocked crossing. We apologize for any inconveniences to the community. In all instances, Norfolk Southern works to resume the safe movement of a train as quickly as possible. If a train blocks a crossing for an extended period of time, residents can contact Norfolk Southern Police at 800-946-4744. This number is on the emergency notification sign posted at every highway-rail grade crossing."

We also reached out to the Federal Railroad Administration. They said, "There is no federal regulation specifically addressing the length of time that a highway-rail grade crossing may be blocked by trains or other rail equipment. The only applicable regulation in effect is 49 CFR Part 234.209, which prohibits trains, locomotives or other rail equipment standing in the approach circuits from activating warning systems at grade crossings, unless the operations are part of normal train or switching movements. Many states have enacted laws that set a maximum length of time that a stopped train may block a highway-rail grade crossing. However railroads have successfully challenged some of those state laws in court. Consequently affected state and local jurisdictions are reportedly reluctant to enforce the restrictions."

The Federal Railroad Administration went on to say in their statement, "The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) continues to devote significant resources toward the issue of blocked highway-rail grade crossings, a matter typically addressed by states, local communities and railroads. In cases where blocked crossings are widespread or recurring, FRA regional personnel have sought to facilitate good faith negotiations between local officials and railroads to identify potential solutions."

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