‘Emer­gency exit’ could ease safety fears

♦ Homes on the dead-end Hall Road are some­times blocked for hours by idled trains.

Rome News-Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - By Diane Wag­ner DWag­[email protected]

Floyd County of­fi­cials are clos­ing in on a tem­po­rary so­lu­tion to en­sure emer­gency re­spon­ders can get to Hall Road res­i­dents if the dead-end road is blocked by a train.

The sur­round­ing wet­lands have been a com­pli­cat­ing fac­tor. And County Man­ager Jamie McCord said the Fed­eral Rail­road Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s safety of­fice made it clear that there are no state or fed­eral reg­u­la­tions lim­it­ing the time a train can stop across a road.

“We don’t have the au­thor­ity to in­ter­fere with in­ter­state com­merce. There’s noth­ing legally we can do,” he told county com­mis­sion­ers at a Tues­day cau­cus.

How­ever, McCord said the U.S. Army Corps of Engi­neers re­cently ap­proved con­struc­tion of an emer­gency exit along an aban­doned Cen­tral of Ge­or­gia Rail­way rail bed run­ning be­tween Hall and Reece­burg roads.

“The rail­road rock is un­der the veg­e­ta­tion, so we don’t need a (wet­lands) dis­tur­bance per­mit,” he said.

There are seven house­holds with 13 res­i­dents on the road and they’re not just deal­ing with an in­creas­ing num­ber of stopped Nor­folk South­ern trains. Some­times the wait is for hours.

“Please don’t let the lives of my grand­chil­dren be taken be­cause some­one did not see this need,” said Melody Har­ris, whose daugh­ter Kasey Fri­day was blocked in for 14 hours on Thanks­giv­ing Day.

A USACE per­mit, in­clud­ing wet­lands mit­i­ga­tion, could add up to $150,000 and six months of time to con­struc­tion of a road al­ready es­ti­mated at $130,000 to $185,000. Us­ing the ex­ist­ing rail bed, how­ever, is likely to cost less than $50,000.

But McCord said the Corps’ ap­proval comes with stip­u­la­tions. The road would have to be gated and locked, for use only in emer­gen­cies.

County Com­mis­sion Chair Scotty Han­cock said it’s a rea­son­able pub­lic safety pro­ject, as long as the cen­ter of the rail bed can sup­port the weight of a fire truck.

The county con­trols most of the right of way needed for the emer­gency road and is ne­go­ti­at­ing with res­i­dent Wilma Bridges for the rest. Bridges, who’s lived on Hall Road for decades, said she’s will­ing to trade part of her drive­way and yard for the re­lief.

“That would be the quick­est so­lu­tion, un­til a per­ma­nent so­lu­tion can be found,” McCord said. “There are up to 50 trains a day on those tracks since they added the sec­ond line, and they told us they have a back­log (of goods to trans­port). It’s go­ing to get worse.”

Mean­while, McCord said Nor­folk-South­ern’s safety man­ager has put alerts in place to try to min­i­mize the block­age at the cross­ing. And the life-flight he­li­copter based at Red­mond Re­gional Med­i­cal Cen­ter has lo­cated a site where it can land if nec­es­sary, he said.

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