Train traps Trussville residents inside neighborhood for hours

Train traps Trussville residents inside neighborhood for hours
Source: Gwen Frazier
Source: Gwen Frazier

TRUSSVILLE, AL (WBRC) - A train trapped residents inside their Trussville neighborhood for hours Friday.

According to a spokesperson for Norfolk Southern Corp., a train had a mechanical problem that caused it to stop unexpectedly.

Peggy Robbins, an occupational therapist, was leaving for work shortly after 5 a.m. when the sitting train halted her commute.

"I was supposed to be treating my first patient at 6:30 a.m.," said Robbins. "I had to call my supervisor and I also had to call my fellow therapist to change the schedule around so she could swap patients with me."

Robbins says she and her husband purchased a home in Trussville Springs development in 2010. She said they knew the community's entrance would cross the railroad tracks, but thought they could rely on a second emergency exit.

The second non-public emergency exit is located down a winding gravel drive.

"This was going to be an entrance that we could ingress/egress out of the development if there was a train stalled, derailed, just blocking the temporary entrance that was just above us," said Steven Tanner, a resident since 2009.

"A couple of months ago, I was down by that entrance riding my bicycle when I noticed a big metal gate up there," said Robbins.

The gate is secured with a lock and sign that reads "No Trespassing" and "Norfolk Southern Corp."

On Friday, Robbins says she and others called Trussville emergency dispatch to ask for help unlocking the emergency gate.  She says they were initially told no one had a key.

"I hate that I have to call the fire department and inconvenience them to drive down here to unlock that gate, just so I and others can go to work," Robbins said.

After two hours, she says fire department arrived with a key to open the emergency gate and let residents out of their neighborhood.

Mayor Gene Melton said all emergency departments have a key to this back gate.  He says if residents get stuck inside, they should call the fire department at (205)655-2101.

But to Tanner, that's little relief.

"Because it says 'for emergency access, call Trussville fire,'" Tanner said pointing to the sign on the gate. "I don't think they're going to define me as being late for a ballgame, or for dinner, or for a conference call at my house, as being an emergency."

Lacey Smith, a resident since October 2015, says she was made over an hour late to work Friday morning.  She says the delay was caused primarily by dispatch's slow response to the resident calls.

"The train hasn't been a huge issue," Smith said.  She trusts that dispatch now knows how to respond to resident requests to unlock the emergency gate.

The community developer, Barry Stalnaker, said that the emergency gate and non-public exit are the property of Norfolk Southern.  He says the railroad company will not give the gate's key to the community.

"We never had reason to believe they were going to close it," Stalnaker said. "I hate it as much as the residents do."

Stalnaker says he continues to work with the railroad and City of Trussville to construct a second entrance to the community that will be illuminated and include railroad crossing gates.

Stalnaker says the design for the second entrance has been approved by the railroad's engineering department and that they waiting for the legal department to issue a contract for construction.

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