Passing the Buck in a Game of Railroad Roulette

Grrrr. I hate government.

Yeah, that will put me on a watch list, but I don’t give a damn. I’m already on all your lists anyway, I’m sure.

Here’s today’s “Grrrr.”

We’ve got a railroad crossing here in Savannah that is unsafe. It is about one mile outside of downtown, right by the onramp/offramp for a busy highway. The road on the inbound (towards downtown) side of the tracks is a 50mph zone, and the outbound is 40. A company called RailLink owns the crossing, and it is unsafe.

In the past month, I have seen all kinds of craziness at this crossing. I personally had to come to a screeching stop, along with the guy next to me, as an idiot on a railroad utility vehicle (almost like a crane) decided to try to make it across the tracks without lowering the gates. This guy drove his vehicle across two lanes (the 50mph lanes), and stopped waiting for traffic on the other side to pass so he could illegally cross the other half of the road. The traffic never let up, and eventually, the idiot backed up his crane and off of the 50mpg road. NO GATES. None. At all. No lights, no bells. NO FLAGGER. These folks are breaking all kinds of safety laws.

Today’s incident involved an actual train. I’m headed out of downtown, going 40. I look up, and here comes a train. Why didn’t I see the train? Well, because the ARM to the GATE is sitting in the GRASS. That’s right– the grass. It’s not even connected, yet it is one of the devices implemented with the goal of making highway traffic safer.

Obviously, we have problems with this crossing. Every day, school busses pass through this intersection, as do thousands of people on their way to work. It is only a matter of time before someone is killed or injured.

I did some research. It turns out there have been 227 accidents involving 13 injuries in Chatham County since 1975. There have been 40 collisions, 166 derailments, 20 equipment failures, 70 track failures, 115 human errors, 21 “other” failures, and no signal failures. source

About a month ago, I decided that I would try to get these gates fixed. I grew up in a “railroad family.” My dad was a freight engineer until the 80s when the Rock collapsed, and then was hired on by Metra in Chicago. I’ve been in the engines. I’ve been in the freight yards. I’ve been in the passenger yards. I’ve been in the backrooms of railroad facilities. I’ve seen track control rooms. I’ve been around it my whole life, and I have learned quite a bit.

I know that railroad crossings kill. Many people don’t realize that a train takes a minimum of a half-mile to stop, and that is if you have a light train. Freight trains can take several miles to completely stop. Trains are dangerous, and it would be foolish to think otherwise.

So, a couple months back I called the city. I spoke with the traffic manager, and told him that the crossing was bad. He said he would contact the railroad, but that is all he can do. So, I contacted the NTSB– the National Transportation Safety Board. I never heard back. So, I contacted my congressman John Barrow. The idiot in his office had the nerve to tell me that railroad safety was a state issue, and that there was nothing he could do about it. Hello moron, have you ever heard of the NTSB? Idiot.

Nothing came out of any of my calls. So, today when the gates were again not down and the train was again crossing and traffic was again coming to a screeching halt to avoid certain death, I decided it is time to do something about these gates.

I’m going to go as high as I can to make sure these things are fixed. My job allows me a flexible schedule, so it is not beyond me to go stand out by the tracks with a sign that says, “UNSAFE GATES KILL.” That would attract media attention, I’m sure. But do I really want to be labeled as a nutcase? Probably not.

So, I called the city manager, who would not take my call. Why would he– he is appointed, and has no reason to work on behalf of the average citizen. I left a message and told the lady that I was displeased that he would not take my call regarding a matter of public safety. I informed her that I would be sending the city a certified notice that the gates are unsafe, and that I have notified them in the past about the same issue. I made it clear to her that once she receives my letter, the city is most likely open to massive amounts of liability of they fail to act to preserve the safety of their citizens.

Five minutes later I get a call back. It is Mike in traffic again. I tell him I already talked to him and that he said there was nothing he could do. I told him I would be sending out a letter to the city, and he would be carbon copied on it. The head of traffic should be acutely aware of unsafe roads and crossings, and it should be his first priority to rectify unsafe situations.

I left a message for my alderman, and am yet to hear back. I also left a message with the very friendly lady in Atlanta who works at my state representative’s office, and she told me the state representative would call me back. I hope he does.

Anyway, that is where I am. If I don’t see that gate up by the end of the week, I’m going to the media. We are a small city, and our news coverage reflects this. A story about an individual citizen trying to wade through the sea of red tape and accountability in order to potentially save lives is news around here. I really hope this gets fixed.

Mike

2 thoughts on “Passing the Buck in a Game of Railroad Roulette

  1. MIKE,

    I AM A RAIL ENFORCEMENT OFFICER FROM THE SOUTH. MAYBE YOU SHOULD CONTACT YOUR STATE DEPT.OF TRANSPORTATION OR THE PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION.ONE OF THESE AGENCIES SHOULD HAVE A RAILS SAFETY DIVISION.IF YOUR STATE IS LIKE MY STATE THEY WILL HAVE INSPECTORS WHO WILL CRACK DOWN HARD ON THIS ISSUE.
    ALSO IN MY STATE IT IS THE RAILROADS RESPONSIBILITY TO MAINTAIN THE SAFETY
    INSTRUMENTS AT THE GRADE CROSSING. GIVE THESE A TRY ,AND IF YOU STILL CAN’T GET ANY HELP E-MAIL ME BACK AND I’LL SEE WHAT ELSE WE MIGHT CAN TRY.

  2. The tracks further down President St are pretty bad as well. I’ve cringed every time I have to ride my motorcycle over them for years, as there were big gaps where the ties lying between the pavement and the rails had rotted away. Not to mention the horrible angle those things are at… Now of course they’ve ripped up all of ties and replaced them with uneven ashpalt, and to top it off they didn’t remove the rails, they just poured the asphalt over them. If you ask me the crossing is bumpier and rougher now than it was before.

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