Pasco County sheriff Chris Nocco is stepping into a dispute between a railroad company and Dade City residents over randomly stopped trains in the city.
Nocco sent the letter to CSX Corp., Tuesday after a train stopped inside the town, blocking roads. It was the second time a train had stopped in the past 40 days, creating traffic problems that lasted for hours.
“The statement CSX issued apologizing to motorists for the ‘inconvenience’ shows an appalling lack of concern regarding the situation,” Nocco wrote in his letter to Michael Ward, president and chief executive of CSX. “This problem could have been avoided if trains were stopped just north of the city. For CSX to act as if this was an unavoidable problem when it could have been avoided with just a few minutes of forethought or action demonstrates (willful) neglect of CSX’s responsibilities.”
In a statement from its spokeswoman late Wednesday, CSX said it “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.
“If a train is stopped, local officials will be notified and crews have been instructed to separate the train’s cars at rail crossings to allow motorists through.
“Again, we sincerely apologize for this disruption.”
In previous published reports, CSX said the stoppage was caused by federal laws that dictate how many hours engineers and other workers are allowed to put in at one time. In each case, the employees ran out of time, and had to stop immediately — even if that was in the middle of a town.
The problem is that it not only ties up traffic and people’s ability to get around Dade City, but also creates public safety hazards, Nocco said.
“Intentional leaving of a train that blocks access of public safety vehicles and personnel in case of an emergency could cost the life of one of our citizens,” Nocco said. “I would hope that this is the last time this needs to be addressed.”
William Poe Jr., the city manager of Dade City, tried his own approach when the first train stopped and blocked roadways in July. that train, he said in a letter to CSX transportation superintendent Sam Ferrara, blocked three of the four railroad crossings into a neighborhood on the east side of the city. That train ended up blocking those intersections for nearly five hours.
“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 his July 16 letter. “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.”
Dade City positioned police offices on both sides of the track at each intersection to help move traffic around the blockages, and to provide security for the train itself, Poe said. The engine was left unattended, and was running.
“I would ask that you examine your processes to ensure that these episodes do not happen to us, or any other city, in the future,” Poe told Ferrara. “These careless actions severely limited the capabilities of even basic emergency services response, and could have been catastrophic to our citizens. Just as vital, your leadership demonstrated no urgency in bringing resources to us in a timely manner.
“This is inconceivable to me.”
Updated 8/20/2014, 11:26 p.m., to add statement from CSX Corp.