Dade City train issues draw federal attention

A problem with CSX Corp. stopping trains in the middle of intersections in Dade City has drawn attention not just from local officials, like Dade City city manager William Poe and Pasco County sheriff Chris Nocco, but from a Congressman as well.

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis says he has initiated a Federal Railroad Administration investigation into CSX after the company twice stopped trains in the middle of roads, because of what they said were federally mandated stop times for workers.

“As Pasco County’s voice in the United States Congress, I echo the concerns raised by the police chief, sheriff and other community leaders regarding the recent CSX situation,” Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, said in a release. “These preventable delays posed not only considerable inconvenience to residents, but more importantly, they represented an irresponsible and flagrant disregard for the public safety needs of our community.”

It’s not exactly clear what the railroad administration will be able to do. However, Bilirakis said he was assured by officials within the agency that they will conduct a “thorough investigation into what occurred in both cases, and take proactive steps to ensure that similar incidents are avoided.”

The problem stemmed from two separate incidents in July and August where engineers stopped trains after meeting the maximum number of hours they could work. The engines, according to local officials, were left running and unattended, in one case blocking three of the four available intersections in and out of a neighborhood for more than five hours.

That resulted in an angry letter from Poe soon after, decrying CSX for creating potential safety issues, and forcing local law enforcement to help secure the train and direct traffic.

“This thoughtless action on the part of your crew created a tremendous strain on our ability to provide essential public safety services,” Poe said in a July 16 letter to CSX. “The area adjacent to the train tracks is a residential neighborhood, and the roadways that were blocked provide the main access to numerous other neighborhoods, schools, parks, (a) cemetery and other facilities. A high volume of pedestrians, as well as vehicular traffic, go through this neighborhood on a daily basis.”

CSX responded to the complaints by saying they would work to avoid blocking intersections for long periods of time in the future. And when they do, they will give local officials a heads up, and separate train cars so that intersections are clear for vehicular traffic.

A CSX spokeswoman told The Laker/Lutz News in a statement Wednesday that is “apologizes for the disruptions caused by trains blocking road crossings in Dade City. We understand the frustrations of residents and local officials, and are making operational adjustments. CSX will make every attempt to keep trains running through Dade City except under emergency circumstances.”

CSX also heard from Bilirakis’ office as well.

“I also called leaders within CSX to put them on notice that this type of behavior is unacceptable, and will not be tolerated,” Bilirakis said. “The people of Pasco do deserve better than this, and I will not rest until I receive assurances that those responsible will be held accountable and that proper plans are in place to prioritize the health, safety and well-being of our community.”

The Federal Railroad Administration is one of 10 agencies within the U.S. Department of Transportation that deals with intermodal transportation, according to the group’s website. It was created by the Department of Transportation Act of 1966. It is led by fifth-generation railroader Joseph Szabo.


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