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NM Council Holds Special Railroad Crossing Meeting

March 28, 2019

Facing increased safety and economic concerns over trains blocking the railroad crossings to the downtown area of New Martinsville, city officials met with a representative of the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Railroad Administration in an effort to find a solution to the problem.

The meeting was held March 21 in the large conference room of New Martinsville City Hall. Representing the city were Mayor Steve Bohrer, New Martinsville Attorney Carolyn Flannery, Wetzel County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Haught and all six members of city council. The meeting was scheduled as a result of recent increased rail traffic through the city, resulting in long delays for traffic and pedestrians trying to get in and out of the downtown area.

Rodney C. Whaley, Crossing and Trespassing Regional Manager for the Federal Railroad Administration, was present to hear concerns and answer any questions city representatives had. Whaley made it known he does not have control over how many train cars can be pulled at one time or how long trains can block crossings. He said he does believe the state law limits the length of time trains can be stopped in public to 10 minutes.

Whaley said he had been in town since that Tuesday, observing train movement and trying to get an idea of what is happening. Mayor Bohrer explained there are eight active crossings that lead to the downtown area, and it has become more frequent for CSX to close off those access routes with long trains. Bohrer noted from the crossing on Commercial Street to the one on Parkway it is one mile.

Whaley said train traffic has increased all over the country, and here it is a result of the oil and gas; he said it is growing and will continue to grow. He said even though he has no power to enforce CSX from tying up the crossings,

he believes he can take the city's concerns and problems to CSX and persuade them to use a common-sense approach to alleviate the problems.

Councilman Joel Potts said the situation is out of control, and there is no reason why traffic should be held up for two hours at a crossing, while a train is idle on the track. Whaley said in the instance that is referred to, he has been told that there were people actually crawling under the trains, and CSX will not move a train when that is happening. Mayor Bohrer agreed with Whaley while also commenting the city police were notified and responded to the scene to make sure the tracks were clear. Bohrer said everyone was in agreement that no one should be trying to cross a moving train. Bohrer said it is very hard to communicate with CSX, and when a person tries to call the railyard, there is always a recording in response or no answer. He said he was frustrated trying to communicate with the office in Jacksonville, as there is never a return phone call and the city would just like to receive a phone number in which they can contact a live person. He said the matter is very frustrating.

Prosecutor Haught mentioned trying to work with CSX and find a simple solution. He said he has had problems with CSX attorneys at the magistrate court. "They're just not willing to negotiate or work towards a solution," Haught said. He said he has had many criminal complaints filed against CSX, but they just don't seem to care. He has proposed simple solutions to the problems, and he said they are not unreasonable. One would be that CSX keeps one of the main crossings open, Parkway or North Street. He said when all of the crossings are closed, it presents a major safety concern.

"I will tell you this, I am getting tired of it. I have a lot of other things I am working on, including fighting the drug issues. This is something that can be resolved with just some common sense on both sides." Haught also expressed safety concerns over train cars that are stored in residential areas, like behind Wal-Mart. He said he doesn't know what's in them, whether they are full or empty, and it could easily turn into a bad situation.

Councilman Steve Pallisco then mentioned the train car that had a chlorine leak up at the chemical plant a couple of years ago. He said there was a wide area that was evacuated, including parts of Steelton. City Attorney Flannery also expressed her concerns over the train crossings and the storage of cars. She said it's only a problem because of lack of communication and willingness to work with the city. She believes this problem could be resolved if CSX would just make themselves available to city officials when a problem arises. She noted during the chlorine leak at the plant, it destroyed a lot of vegetation, and she was even evacuated from her home.

Whaley was taking notes, and he said he would be meeting with CSX over the concerns and would stress the points made. He said, again, he has no control over the moving of cars and length of trains, but he would try to get some help in establishing better communication.

Haught said he wanted to make it known that the first time that one of the trains blocks a crossing and holds up an emergency vehicle, he will get a warrant and have the sheriff's department arrest the train engineer. He said it is a felony offense to interfere or block an emergency vehicle, and he won't allow it.

Whaley said he would relay that message back to CSX. He said the thing about the long trains is economics. "They are in business to make money, and they are going to do the best thing they can for their stockholders," said Whaley.

Councilman Pallisco also talked about economics. He said the city merchants need to make money as well, and when people can't get downtown or out of town, the businesses lose money as well. It was also noted that there were recently delivery people, trying to get produce to town, who just turned around and left. This cost the downtown grocery store money. Also, the train that set on the track for two hours was a major interference with community business and a major safety factor for everyone.

Mayor Bohrer brought up an instance in which a train had allegedly blocked the crossing on Rt. 2 near Choo Choos's restaurant and was idle for 45 minutes. It was reported the train personnel had been holding up traffic, going both directions, while waiting on their food from the restaurant. Whaley said if this situation actually happened it was wrong, and he would address the matter with CSX.

Whaley also was asked to see if CSX can conduct its switching of cars in the yard and not tie up the crossings.

Several others issues were discussed, but the main concern from council was to try and alleviate the long stops on the track crossings. Council members said they had no problem with long trains as long as they were moving.



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