Railroad Crossing Blockages Concern Officials

Virginia State Police have opened an investigation into repeated road blocks on the Va. 56 crossing in Vesuvius caused by stopped trains on the Norfolk Southern railway.

“It’s been a nightmare,” Del. Ronnie Campbell said of the incidents.

According to Campbell, Vesuvius residents have run into the issue of trains blocking Va. 56 for multiple hours at a time beginning in late July. Vesuvius residents reported blockages lasting hours on end, leaving drivers unable to get to work, family obligations and, in one case, a doctor’s appointment.

Affected residents reached out to Campbell, congressional representatives and even the governor’s office for answers. Campbell, a retired state trooper himself, connected with Virginia State Police when the issue “came to a head” in a frustrating nine-hour roadblock on Va. 56 on Aug. 19, the day that the 611 locomotive was stuck in Buena Vista because of a mechanical issue with a train in South River.

Virginia State Police First Sgt. Tim Knight described the repeated train blockings as a public safety issue, as it left residents without access to police or emergency services.

Knight explained that Norfolk Southern changed its operating procedures in July, introducing much longer trains to railways, some up to two miles in length.

“It’s almost two trains together,” Knight said.

The roadblock issue on the Va. 56 crossing arises when north and southbound trains must pass one another on double tracks. A southbound train must pull over and stop to allow a northbound train to pass. The increased length of these locomotives resulted in pulled-over trains extending into Vesuvius, repeatedly blocking the roadway on Va. 56.

Virginia code states a train engineer can be fined up to $500 if a train blocks a roadway crossing for more than five minutes, except in the event of an emergency or breakdown.

State police opened an investigation into the nine-hour roadblock incident. Knight suggested the increased length of the train could have caused radio communication to be lost between the engineer at the front of the train and the remote at the back. The investigation is still ongoing.

Knight said Virginia State Police took steps to establish and maintain better communication with Norfolk Southern Railway Corporation as a result of these incidents. In response to the issue, trains will park to allow passing on a single track farther north in Augusta County to ensure Va. 56 does not see more blockings. Knight said there has been “no problems” since Aug. 22.

A media representative with Norfolk Southern could not be reached by The News-Gazette.

The News-Gazette

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