Repairing the rails in a ‘Train Town’

Posted on Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 10:16 am

A CSX cargo train makes its way south Sunday as heavy machinery lines the adjacent set of tracks. Crews will be onsite in Ashland over the next several weeks replacing rails and ties.

Ashland was built around the train tracks that run through the center of town, the same stretch of rail that will be under construction for the next few weeks.

Once CSX Transportation completes its replacement of 18,718 feet of rail and 38,000 crossties, its Ashland stretch of tracks should be safer and more efficient. In the meantime, residents near the tracks and passersby making their way through Ashland can expect headaches as the construction has closed several crossings in town.

Work began Sunday as heavy equipment moved into the area. Crews closed the minor intersections at Francis, Myrtle, College and Patrick streets and were busy pulling up rails on the eastern set of tracks in the center of town.

Robert Sullivan, CSX spokesperson, said  the project is part of CSX’s ongoing track maintenance program and was not the result of any issue.

Fortunately, the type of work being carried out by CSX isn’t an everyday occurrence.

The existing rails have not been replaced since 1957.

Ashland Police Chief Douglas Goodman said that during the construction process, his department will try to keep the public informed through local and social media as they receive updates from CSX.

Heavy machinery lines the tracks as a bicyclist makes his way down Center Street.

“They try to work with us the best that they can,” Goodman said. “There’s just so many factors upstream that affect when work gets done downstream.

“Bottom line, we’re going to do the best job we can with the resources we have to minimize any kind of inconvenience on our citizens, those coming to do business in town, and for a lot of businesses, those deliveries that are coming in,” he added.

While inconvenient, the closing of the Francis, Myrtle, College and Patrick street crossings is a move that CSX has told the town will actually speed up the project.

“I can’t do anything about that; that’s CSX’s call,” Goodman said. “They shared with us that it’s going to be faster that way, and they shared their rationale, and you know what? I got it, I understand it.”

England Street, Ashcake Road and Vaughan Street will serve as the alternate routes. Goodman asks citizens and motorists to remain flexible and patient throughout the process. He planned to deliver flyers to homes lining the tracks to warn them about the possibility of damage to cars parked on Center Street.

“Most folks that either live in Ashland, have been around Ashland or do business in Ashland, they understand that this is a train town, and they understand that when things happen, they can find alternate routes,” Goodman said. “If you’ve been around long enough in this town, you’ve been here when a trash train from a northern state breaks down right in the middle of town on a hot summer day and closes every crossing, and we have to get out there and handle it.”


I-95 of Railroads


Goodman previously worked for the Hanover Sheriff’s Office where he didn’t have to deal with the estimated 60 to 80 trains barreling through his immediate jurisdiction on a daily basis. Adjusting to that reality in Ashland was challenging at first.

“You’ve got the I-95 of train tracks here. This is the main north-south gateway of railway on the eastern seaboard,” he said.

“In other parts of Hanover County, for the most part, the trains aren’t going right through a neighborhood. They might skirt the outskirts of a neighborhood or they’re in the rural areas,” Goodman added. “Quite frankly, there’re very few places in Virginia where the train tracks cut right through the middle of town.”

The Ashland Police Department has learned how to cope with the railroad while overseeing special events in the center of town or other activities where the public comes into close proximity with the tracks.

His philosophy in policing special events is to take steps to keep everyone safe without going overboard.

“It’s kind of like going out in the ocean,” he said. “You may not fear it. But you better respect it.”

Goodman said his officers receive train safety training and his department has done some outreach in local elementary schools about the dangers trains can pose, mainly, that “they can’t swerve and they can’t stop on a dime.”

Goodman recalls only one “vehicle versus train” collision where a driver fortunately lived to tell the tale, although their car was totaled. There have been other cases where motorists have taken a wrong turn and ended up on the tracks. In that situation, Ashland officers contact CSX, which immediately halts nearby trains until the vehicle is removed.

“We’ve never had a situation where we’ve got a train barreling down on a car – that imminent threat, like a movie,” Goodman said. “We haven’t had that, but it could happen.”

View a multimedia slideshow of the CSX work here.

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