Officer keeps eyes on track for railroad company

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This profile is part of an ongoing series on area law enforcement officers.

Thomas McDaniel has been working with the CSX Police Department since March 2012. He is responsible for about 500 miles of track running through 14 counties.   SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
Thomas McDaniel has been working with the CSX Police Department since March 2012. He is responsible for about 500 miles of track running through 14 counties.

Hardly a day goes by without Thomas McDaniel hearing the same question he has heard for the past two years: “Wait, the railroad has a police department?”

The 35-year-old CSX Po­lice De­part­ment special agent usually gets the question whenever he’s shooing unruly youths away from the company’s bridge over the Savan­nah River. But every now and then, he’ll catch a glimpse of someone eyeing the patch on the sleeve of his uniform when he’s out for lunch.

He’s a law enforcement officer just like any other. He just works for an agency you might have never heard of.

“The vast majority of people I speak to had no idea that we existed,” he said with a laugh.

McDaniel, who began his law enforcement career in 2000 at the University of Georgia Police Department, has been with the CSX force since March 2012. He said police work is something he had dreamed of doing since he was a child.

Having studied criminal justice at the University of Geor­gia, he said, McDaniel jumped at the first opportunity at a career in law enforcment. After more than a decade at the university, he said, he began looking for new opportunities.

Enter the railroad police.

“There’s a little under 200 of us, but that’s spread out through 23 different states and 21,000 miles of track,” McDaniel said of the agency. “When you come from a traditional agency, you’re used to having records people and dispatchers and investigators. Here, you have to wear all those hats yourself.”

Wearing multiple hats is something McDaniel does well, said David Thom­erson, the special agent in charge of the company’s Florence, S.C., division.

“We always say that you can train somebody to be a police officer and they can be a police officer for any other department,” Thomerson said. “But when you come to us, you’ve got the concepts to be a police officer, but you’ve got to become a railroad police officer … Thomas quickly grasped it like a sponge soaking up water.”

McDaniel is responsible for about 500 miles of track, stretching from Greensboro, Ga., to the west and Fairfax, S.C. to the east, and as far north as Greenwood, S.C. In all, 14 counties rely on his expertise to prevent cargo thefts, trespassing and vandalism on company property.

“Certain locations deal with certain things more than others,” he said. “In Atlanta, they have a lot of problems with cargo theft. Out here, there’s more time for proactive things. There’s a lot of metal theft and a fair amount of vandalism.”

In the summertime, the agency pays special attention to bridges over waterways, which attract thrill-seeking youths, he said. CSX’s downtown Augusta bridge, in particular, sees a lot of action.

The job differs greatly from other municipal agencies, Thomerson said, as CSX’s business is “on wheels and rolling.”

“(The train) might stop in Augusta and have a problem, then make it all the way to Atlanta and Chicago before somebody realizes there’s a problem with this car,” he said. “There’s a lot of investigative work to be done.”

Traveling the long miles to see that the work is done is something McDaniel said he doesn’t mind.

“I enjoy the wide open territory,” he said. “And just like any other police agency, we have different opportunities that we can pursue in good time.”

THOMAS MCDANIEL

AGE: 35

FAMILY: Wife, Suzanne; sons, Charlie and Clay, 5 months

LAW ENFORCEMENT EXPERIENCE: McDaniel suspended his studies at the University of Georgia to join its police department in January 2000. He stayed until March 2012, when he joined the CSX Police Department.

LIFE BEFORE LAW: McDaniel was a full-time criminal justice student at the University of Georgia.

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bclicious
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bclicious 06/23/14 - 06:33 am
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Is the VA Police Dept next?

I guess we will be talking about the Augusta VA Police next; huh?

AFjoe
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AFjoe 06/23/14 - 12:04 pm
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Criminal Justice Degree

With a degree from GA, I hope you will move up the LEO food chain.
If you want to know where a train has been, just follow it's tracks!!

bclicious
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bclicious 06/25/14 - 02:38 pm
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Sweet son

I'm not sure where your anger is directed towards, but I made a very generalized comment. You are totally out of line Sir.

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