BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — After hearing from numerous communities about stalled trains blocking their neighborhoods, we launched a Your Voice, Your Station investigation to find out why so many stalled trains sit on tracks keeping neighbors from getting in and out of their neighborhoods.
Charles Crockrom told CBS 42 he’s lived in Birmingham for 40 years and is tired of battling stalled trains.
“Anytime I get ready just to leave my house, I’ve got to alter which route I take because 24th Street is blocked, 34th Street is blocked, 17th, 18th street is blocked on the other end. That means we have to go at least two miles to get all the way back around from my house before I can go any further.”
Neighbors described the stalled trains as frustrating, inconvenient and dangerous. As we covered these stories, railroad companies have responded with written statements. Neighbors and city leaders are demanding more action from the railroads.
So, CBS 42 pushed for a face-to-face with Norfolk Southern and the company dispatched the superintendent of the Gulf Region, Cabell Brockman. “You know it’s something that I don’t normally do and I appreciate the opportunity to come here and speak to you about it.” said Brockman who compared the company’s Norris Yard to Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. He added, “Birmingham and the rail industry for Norfolk Southern is kind of like the Atlanta airport for us, it is a major hub.”
The Norris Yard has 76 tracks that lead to the mainline that carries trains in and out of Birmingham. Brockman gave us full access to the yard, drove us around and showed us the operation to explain what’s causing some of the chronic problems with stopped trains. Among the reasons he said, “Our train crews can only work a 12-hour day, once they hit that 12 hour mark, they cannot move a train, they cannot perform any more service.”
He responded frankly when asked if it’s unacceptable for trains to block a community for days on end.
“Yes, we’ve got to do better,” he said. “That’s what we need to do from a local standpoint. That’s on me.”
Alabama Congresswoman Terri Sewell says she is looking for short and long term solutions. “Which is why I invited Secretary Buttigieg to come to Alabama, come to Birmingham, let’s talk about this problem, let’s talk about it with the railroad industry.”
We also reached out to Director of Paroles and Pardons Cam Ward. He was a state senator four years ago when he launched a state task force to look into the challenge of stalled trains. He says, “The fact-finding mission led them to conclude the real issue is more collaboration between the communities and the railroad companies because local governments can’t pass laws to regulate the railroads.”
The Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration launched a web portal for the public to report blocked railroad crossings. Congresswoman Terri Sewell told CBS 42 there are resources in the bi-partisan infrastructure bill signed Monday to build bridges and underpasses to address the problem of blocked railroad crossings. She also emphasized the importance of contacting your local and national lawmakers.