CHESTER, S.C. — Trains keep parking on a stretch of tracks in a Chester County community, blocking lanes and causing big delays for people who need to get from one side of town to the other.
The delays because of the trains are causing headaches for residents, but even the local sheriff’s office says it could be a life or death issue. This has been an issue in Chester going back at least several years.
Channel 9 was in Chester Thursday when we saw a train take about 30 minutes to pass the track over Gadsden Street.
At times, the train came to a complete stop on the tracks; other times, it rolled backwards, testing the patience of more than a dozen drivers.
“I don’t have any idea what’s going on,” said Gwen Hicks. “Sometimes I’ll turn around and take another route, but today I don’t feel like going through all them problems, so I’m just gonna sit here and wait ‘til the train moves.”
But even if Hicks had moved from that spot on Gadsden Street, there’s no guarantee she’d find a faster way around.
“A lot of these tracks are very connected, so you may be blocked at one point, think you can go around, and you’re blocked by the same train at a different point,” said Grant Suskin with the Chester County Sheriff’s Office.
Suskin says the delays are creating a public safety issue.
“Some calls are life and death situations, those minutes it takes to go around the tracks to another location can mean the difference between life and death,” he said.
A report from the sheriff’s office shows 10 different rail crossings that can be impacted by the delays. According to data collected by the office, some trains can block railroad crossings for up to four hours. The data also shows that the problem has been on the rise in recent months.
Chester County sent a statement to Channel 9 saying these delays are putting lives in danger.
We reached out to BNSF Railroad, which owns the train Channel 9 saw blocking the railroad crossing Thursday. A spokesperson with BNSF said it doesn’t operate the tracks in South Carolina, and the spokesperson recommended we reach out to CSX and Norfolk Southern.
CSX told Channel 9, in part, “We are aware of concerns about blocked crossings in Chester County. We are looking into the matter and continue to maintain an open line of communication with local officials.”
Norfolk Southern also issued a statement to Channel 9, saying: “We are not the only railroad company operating in Chester and many of the crossings have multiple tracks/railroads on them. From time to time, trains have to stop for many valid reasons – maintenance issues, crew hour limits (similar to airline pilots, this is regulated by the federal government), or congestion ahead, among others. Regardless, Norfolk Southern never wants to inconvenience any member of a community with a blocked crossing. We work hard to keep trains moving and to minimize these impacts whenever they happen. Relationships with local communities and the officials representing them are important to us, and we look forward to continuing to build the ones we have here in Chester.”
Meanwhile, drivers in Chester are hoping for a quick resolution.
“If there is a solution, I would be happy to see one, and I’m sure most of my family would, too,” said Hope Thompson.
The sheriff’s office tells Channel 9 it’s still collecting data, and officials want to have a public meeting with the train companies, rail operators, and lawmakers to hash out a solution. Chester County officials said Rep. Ralph Norman has also been asked to help resolve the problem.
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