CSX rail expansion divides Birmingham - WBRC FOX6 News - Birmingham, AL

CSX rail expansion divides Birmingham

CSX says the expansion will eliminate current problems but people living near the tracks don't agree. Source: WRBC video CSX says the expansion will eliminate current problems but people living near the tracks don't agree. Source: WRBC video

CSX is expanding its tracks in southwest Birmingham and it's a project that's been the source of much debate.

People in these communities including Mason City worry what additional trains will do to their already struggling neighborhoods but CSX says the changes will improve the area.

Along with an additional track CSX will build an overpass in Collegeville to help relieve the community which is currently fenced in by tracks. CSX says the project will cut down on noise, shaking and wait times. But some people in the community just are worried.

Living roughly 30 feet away from a train track is pretty much what you might expect. There's noise, there's shaking and soon there will probably be more of both.

"You can't even hold a conversation if they blow the horns. If you're sitting here you can't hold a conversation you have to wait until it passes," Elizabeth King said.

CSX Rail has just started an expansion project that will add a new line of track. It will span several southwest Birmingham neighborhoods including Mason City where Elizabeth King lives. It's safe to say the 24-year resident is more than frustrated by this fact.

"I don't want the tracks here," she said.

For some this expansion goes beyond just the individuals like King and their property. Many are worried how tracks will impact the community as a whole.

Professor of architecture and director of Auburn University's Urban Studio Cheryl Morgan says the concern is not necessarily misplaced.

"The wider and deeper it is, the more of a canyon it creates between…and that tends to disrupt a neighborhood," she said.

Morgan says if you look at history there's a pattern of where things like highways and sewer plants and railways are built.

"They tend to be in areas where there's the least sense that people have a way to stop these things," she said.

That sense of powerlessness unfolded for many residents of the effected neighborhoods at a January city council meeting.

"The city council was the only entity that stood between the citizens of Mason City and CSX and they stepped back instead of stepping up," Willie Perry said.

Residents watched as councilors gave the project the green light despite their protests. Councilor Valerie Abbott said it was a tough decision.

"I understand you don't want this but what you have to understand is that the federal government gives all the power to the railroads and none of the power to you," she said.

According to CSX if the city council had turned down the project the company would have taken Birmingham to court to get the rights. The city would have ultimately used money currently planned for neighborhood improvements on court costs.

CSX refused our request for an on camera interview but in a statement detailed the improvements and fixes they have planned for the community:

CSX has committed up to $25,000 per home for such soundproofing mitigation of incremental noise for those houses immediately adjacent to the new line after an evaluation by our noise expert.

Along with the funding to fix the noise CSX has also partnered with Habitat for Humanity to revitalize homes in Mason City and made a $10,000 donation to a nearby cemetery.

In the end Morgan says it's people like King, those who live steps away from the tracks, who will feel the effects of this the most.

As King looks back on a visit CSX made to her home she can't help but worry that she and her shaking windows may be forgotten.

"He said it's a done deal. At the time he came to my house he said he didn't want my house the train was going to come and there wasn't nothing I could do."

Right now state House Representative John Rogers is asking the city to rescind their approval of the CSX project. He says the railroad company was not required to attend any zoning hearings and shouldn't have been exempt from those.

As for how zoning laws might apply to CSX, the city's law department issued this statement:

CSX was seeking the vacation of air rights over a portion of city right-of-way. That is not a zoning process. It involves a subdivision, which is governed by a different set of state and city laws than zoning.

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