Originally created 01/27/99

City will buy train switches



In about four months, motorists who drive in downtown Augusta no longer should have to fret and fume over trains stopped at railroad crossings -- unless the trains happen to break down.

City officials have worked out a plan with the railway lines for the city to buy three automatic switches that will keep the trains moving, according to members of Augusta Commission's subcommittee on trains and railroads. The panel met Tuesday.

The railways -- CSX and Norfolk Southern -- will install and maintain the switches to reduce the delay at crossings in the downtown area.

The full Augusta Commission must approve spending $50,000 for the switches and is expected to do so in February.

"Downtown, the public can expect the trains to keep moving," said subcommittee Chairman Steve Shepard, who campaigned for the commission on the trains issue. "They can expect the trains not to stop for the switches. But now, if they have a breakdown, they would still have to stop for mechanical reasons.

"But the days when they stop, and the switchman gets off the engine and takes the time to unlock two locks and gets back on the engine, and they ride through the switch -- that will be over."

The new system would eliminate the need for trains to stop as many as three times while engineers manually switch the rails on a stretch of track where CSX and Norfolk Southern lines merge on Sixth Street.

About seven trains a day travel down the Norfolk Southern line on Sixth Street, blocking cars on cross streets from Broad to Greene to Walker streets. As many as 22 trains each day use the line that cuts from east to west across the city, holding up traffic from 15th Street to Sixth Street downtown.

In an unrelated issue Tuesday, the subcommittee recommended closing the railroad crossing at Goshen Industrial Boulevard. The boulevard runs from Mike Padgett Highway to Doug Barnard Parkway in south Augusta.

The closing will allow three currently unmarked railroad crossings on Doug Barnard Parkway in front of major industries to be marked, said Augusta Public Works Director Jack Murphy.

Georgia Department of Transportation rules require that for a new crossing to be marked with lights and bells, an old crossing must be closed. In this case, the tradeoff is three marked crossings for one closing, Mr. Murphy said.

The $100,000-per-crossing cost will be shared by the industries, the state and the railway lines, Mr. Murphy said.

Staff Writer Alisa DeMao contributed to this article.

Sylvia Cooper can be reached at (706) 823-3228 or sylviaco@augustachronicle.com.