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CSX promises changes to frequently-blocked Gardendale train crossing after WBRC investigation

Updated: May. 27, 2021 at 10:50 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - CSX is promising a “new plan” to try and cut down on the number of times its trains block the only way in and out of a Gardendale neighborhood after a WBRC Fox6 News investigation.

The move comes after Shirley Carr reached out to WBRC’s On Your Side Investigators seeking help with the crossing at McCormack Drive in Gardendale.

“It’s been sporadic, but it seems like in the last 5-6 years it’s gotten worse,” Carr explains. She’s kept a journal of the dates, times, and lengths of the blockages caused by trains idling on the tracks across the only way in and out of her neighborhood.

Shirley Carr keeps a journal of the train blockages.
Shirley Carr keeps a journal of the train blockages.(WBRC-TV)

Her balance sheet of blockages runs a dozen pages, and that’s just since 2015. Shirley’s so tired of having to explain to her boss or friends why she’s running late that she’s just changed her whole lifestyle.

“That’s why I leave an hour to an hour and a half early, and I just take a book and sit in the parking lot of whatever appointment I’ve got,” Carr explains.

Why so many stopped trains at this one section of track?

“That’s the most common denominator---the crew’s run out of time. Not that there’s a mechanical issue--the crew’s run out of time. So wherever they are, by federal law they’re supposed to stop. So when they run out of time they just stop---it doesn’t matter what crossing they’re blocking or anything like that.”

Shirley and her neighbors have taken their concerns to the Gardendale City Council and she says for a while they got some help in pushing CSX to move the trains faster when they’re stopped. But as time wore on and the trains kept stopping, so did the extra help.

“What’s the solution? I don’t know. We’ve asked them to build us an access road out, so we could get out, and we had some neighbors say I’ll donate the land if you’ll build us a road so we can get out, and CSX said no.”

“I’m afraid we’re only going to get results after someone dies,” says Gardendale Mayor Stan Hogeland who says he’s frustrated with the railroad and this continuing problem.

We reached out to CSX and now the railroad’s promising to make changes.

In a statement, the railroad said:

“CSX works hard to minimize the impact of our rail operations in communities we serve and understand that stopped trains can be inconvenient for our neighbors. We are aware of the challenges that exist at McCormack Drive due to its proximity to our rail yard, and our operations team has developed a new plan to mitigate the occurrences of stopped trains at this crossing.

It is important to understand that CSX operates trains 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and there may be times when mechanical and operational issues can result in blocked crossings. Trains also may stop for mandatory safety inspections or federally regulated crew changes. However, CSX works hard to minimize blocked crossings by operating trains at the posted speed limit and anticipating train traffic. We do have the ability to disconnect a train for emergency situations. But, the subsequent delay resulting from the time it takes for air to build up in the brake system and complete mandatory inspections after reassembling a train, often takes longer than the original blockage.”

Click here to contact the WBRC FOX6 News On Your Side Investigation Team.

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