Trapped by trains: Trussville locomotive roadblock is ‘always going to be a problem’

Your Voice Your Station

This is a Your Voice Your Station special report.

TRUSSVILLE, Ala. (WIAT) — If you’ve ever been stuck at a train crossing, it probably added a few minutes to your commute.

Residents of Trussville neighborhoods like Stockton and Trussville Springs can be trapped for hours at a time when trains stop on the tracks.

The eight train crossings in Trussville shown above affect resident’s access to their homes when trains are stopped.

Trussville Mayor Buddy Choat says trains from the Norfolk Southern Railway will stop for several different reasons, including train traffic, maintenance issues, crew changes.

While this isn’t a new issue for the city, residents tell CBS 42 it’s getting worse.

“I’ve been living here for about five years, and it seems like it’s just getting longer and longer,” Stockton neighbor Korderius Davis explained.

Mayor Choat agrees. He says even when the trains are moving, the wait times are longer at crossings.

“From what I’m told, the amount of freight and the amount of trains has just increased significantly over the last few years,”  he said.

For pizza delivery driver Brian Thompson, it makes his job near impossible if he’s delivering to one of the eight neighborhoods that may be blocked off by a stopped train. He told CBS 42 a train stopped in Trussville back in March blocked off the Stockton neighborhood for more than four hours.

“It was very frustrating. We had to re-route, and I had to call customers to let them know how they could get their pizza and feed their kids,” Thompson recalled.

According to Mayor Choat, the city has emergency access to seven of the eight neighborhoods with train crossings. Proposals to construct bridges to alleviate the issue have been shot down as too expensive, he says.

“From time to time we’ll have a bad week or weekend, and we’ve had some recently. And then things get better for a while, but there’s always going to be a problem when you’ve got trains coming through your city,” Mayor Choat told CBS 42. “I wish we could control it a little better, but we really can’t.”

Out of the eight neighborhoods bordering the Norfolk Southern tracks, Trussville Springs is the only one without an easily-accessible alternate route.

“It’s when they break down, and they stall in front of our neighborhood,” Lisa Bright, a Trussville Springs resident said. “Ww have no other way to get out of our neighborhood and can be detained for up to two hours at a time with no access to get out.”

Residents told CBS 42 Digital Reporter Landon Wexler the Trussville Springs neighborhood used to have an alternate path out of their housing tract, under a bridge. Once always available, access to the path was restricted after a vehicle became lodged under the low clearance (7-foot) bridge.

“The fire department will come and open up an emergency exit for us, if there is an emergency,” Bright said.

But per Mayor Choat, the Trussville Fire Department’s ability and privileges to open the emergency gate are limited.

“We have an understanding to open a certain exit or entrance, it has to be a true emergency,” Choat said.

While there’s no permanent fix, he believes better communication can help lessen the wait at train crossings.

CBS 42 reached out to Norfolk Southern about the issues with trains stopping. The company said in a statement:

Norfolk Southern is experiencing an increase in traffic volumes moving through its rail yard in Irondale, Alabama. Occasionally, yard operations increase the impact to nearby railroad crossings.

Norfolk Southern makes every effort to minimize the time that trains interrupt motor vehicle traffic at railroad crossings and works to resume the safe movement of trains as quickly as possible. Norfolk Southern is aware of the concerns in Trussville, Alabama, and is working closely with its transportation team to monitor operations through this area. We also appreciate our working relationship with city leadership and will continue our established open lines of communication.

Jeff DeGraff
Norfolk Southern

The Mayor says he’s already spoken with Norfolk Southern to notify them of recent issues and help establish a better communication system moving forward.

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