‘Emergency exit’ could ease safety fears
♦ Homes on the dead-end Hall Road are sometimes blocked for hours by idled trains.
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.