Storms cited for increase in trains blocking major intersections in Nashville neighborhoods

Company develops app to notify drivers of blocked crossings
Posted at 6:41 PM, Nov 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-10 11:26:39-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — CSX said more roads are being blocked by trains in Nashville in recent weeks because of severe storms along the Gulf Coast.

After recent complaints on social media, including one from Metro council member Colby Sledge on Twitter for having to be stuck at an intersection, a CSX spokesperson responded by saying the storms created an increase in rerouted train traffic.

"CSX is aware that our train operations have affected roadway traffic at multiple grade crossings," Sheriee Bowman of CSX Transportation told NewsChannel 5. "CSX is communicating with local leaders to fully understand the challenges that exist and we are reviewing our operations to determine how we can lessen our impact on the local community, while working hard to meet our customer’s needs."

While the statement sends an apology for any inconvenience, the problem of intersections being blocked has existed for several years. NewsChannel 5 has reported on residents in the Sadler Village community being stuck when a train would block the only way into and out of the subdivision. The issue across the Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood has been ongoing with no specific solution in sight.

It poses a safety concern when emergency responders and law enforcement could be one of the many people stuck in front of a train. Sledge said he has taken his worries to local and state agencies, but ultimately, a solution would come down from a federal level such as the Federal Railroad Administration.

"This is not just an inconvenience anymore. It's a matter of life and death and I don't think CSX is taking it seriously," Sledge said.

Trains are getting longer and creating a bigger impact

The length of trains has increased in recent years, according to the United States Government Accountability Office. All seven Class I freight reported to GAO which indicated that the average train length has increased by about 25% since 2008. Depending on a specific route, the railroads are operating longer, with one running a 3-mile-long train twice a week.

While officials said there are economic benefits to longer trains, stakeholders blocking highway-railroad crossings and derailment are issues to be considered.

"CSX has confirmed to me that these are longer trains. They're building longer trains at the yard and sending them through and blocking two intersections at the same time," Sledge added.

Other Metro council members outside of Sledge's district are starting to witness the changes in operation. Sledge urged drivers stuck at a crossing to report it to the FRA by filing an incident report. He's currently trying to raise money for the Sadler Village community to build a bridge around the trains.

"I tell people if you want to pull off a burglary, steal a train and it will take weeks for them to figure it out. They don't know where their trains are, they don't know when they're blocking places and they don't know how long it will take to get it cleared," he said.

App developed to help drivers navigate around trains

Steve Roche has watched the problem derail people's emotions for years.

The president of Cohub has an office near Fourth Avenue S. and Houston Street. Many people from neighbors to city officials have complained about drivers being stuck on the one-way street, sometimes for hours. You have to figure your way back even as a pedestrian.

"Getting stuck here for two hours in the middle of the day will ruin your day," Roche said.

If it wasn't the long wait times or traffic backups that signaled a concern, it's someone willing to walk in between the freight cars that poses a safety concern. Roche remembers an interviewee who climbed in between the freights to make it in time.

His team decided to develop an app in March that would notify drivers if the intersections at Fourth Avenue S. and Chestnut Street were being blocked by a train. The Fourth Ave S. Train Spotter app uses cameras and an image recognizing system to develop a pattern and produce fairly accurate results.

Anyone can open the app and know the current status of the intersections by the color of the circle. Green means all clear, yellow means one intersection is blocked and red means both are blocked. His team sent fliers to the neighborhood and since then, downloads have increased.

"It's a lifesaver for people and they just love it," Roche said. "The train has been here for decades. They're not going anywhere so we got to learn to adapt to the situation."