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Elkton neighbors voice railroad crossing concerns

Published: Dec. 2, 2021 at 10:49 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 2, 2021 at 11:21 PM EST
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ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) - In the Town of Elkton, there are 26 homes that sit on the other side of a railroad track along Park Way. Residents there said sometimes the train blocks the only entrance in and out.

Many of the neighbors have spent 10, 20+ years living along Park Way, like 23-year resident Sarah Wentz.

“It’s dead-end. There is no other way that we could take, other than the river and a canoe, to leave,” Wentz said.

Wentz said the time they spend waiting for the train to move is rising.

“It used to be maybe 10 minutes, it’s now 30 minutes. It’s now 60 minutes,” Wentz said.

Some residents recall trains have sat for two hours, causing groceries to melt and people to be late.

“It is impacting our employment. You have to leave earlier. I have had several canceled doctor’s appointments that I’ve had to call and say ‘Hey, I can’t get by because of the train,’” Park Way resident Jamie Arehart said.

The group has made numerous calls to the number on the railroad but said they are reaching a dead-end.

One of their biggest concerns is in the case of a medical emergency or a fire and the train is blocking the entrance, how would they get help?

“Something could be happening with my daughter back here and I need the help for them to get to here to her or for me to get out either way and the train would be sitting across the tracks, what am I going to do then?” Park Way resident Allen Meadows said.

Chief of Rockingham County Fire and Rescue Jeremy Holloway said the issue has just recently been brought to their attention, and local entities are looking into it.

He said other areas of the county with a railroad crossing have alternative roads into an area, but not Park Way.

“There is really no additional access we can gain. We’ve looked at maps, we’ve driven the area, trying to figure out if there is an alternative and right now our best option is to contact the railroad and have them move the train,” Holloway said. “Until this occurred, we really never encountered it before. We’ve always had a way to go around.”

Holloway added that in an emergency a train would be a barrier, and said if a train were stopped they could potentially send personnel through the railcars but said it would be difficult to get equipment to the area.

Holloway said they are contacting the railroad to see if there are any other options.

He also noted there was a fire back along Park Way recently.

In a statement to WHSV, Norfolk southern explains that a rail yard is a few miles away and the operations there happen at lower speeds:

“From time to time communities who have built around our tracks are impacted by normal operations on our network. This crossing in particular is near a yard for our railcars, so it can see what feels like more traffic than other places. Our operation teams prioritize keeping trains moving and minimizing any delays that may impact a community. Most importantly, we value our strong working relationships with local officials and first responders.”

The railway added its Police Communications Center is staffed 24/7, 365 days a year in the event of an emergency and said the trains are almost always actively operating even if they are not moving with an engineer in the cab.

According to Virginia Code 56-412.1:

“It shall be unlawful for any railroad company, or any receiver or trustee operating a railroad, to obstruct for a longer period than five minutes the free passage on any street or road by standing cars or trains across the same, except a passenger train while receiving or discharging passengers, but a passway shall be kept open to allow normal flow of traffic....”

The code does not apply when the train is stopped for a breakdown, mechanical failure, or emergency.

WHSV reached out to Norfolk Southern on Thursday for a comment on Virginia Code 56-412.1 and is waiting to hear back.

For some residents on Park Way, the situation is driving them to want to leave. While residents have voiced their frustrations, they said they understand the railway has a job to do too.

“We have no idea what they are going through either. I understand they have a hard job too, but they also have no idea what we’ve been going through up here for the last 10 years and it seems like it’s getting worse,” Park Way resident Andrew Dovel said.

The State Corporation Commission (SCC) said it is aware of the situation and has been in contact with residents. The organization added it has reached out to the railway to find a solution and advises neighbors to report incidences online at https://scc.virginia.gov/pages/Railroad-Regulation or at https://www.fra.dot.gov/blockedcrossings/.

Residents can contact the SCC at varailsafety@scc.virginia.gov or the SCC Division of Utility and Railroad Safety at (804) 371-9980 or Toll-free:1-800-552-7945.

The SCC has also been reporting the incidents to the Federal Railroad Administration blocked crossing database.

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