Originally created 02/03/05

Trains get back on Graniteville's tracks



GRANITEVILLE - It happened just before 4 p.m. Wednesday.

The ringing bells and blinking lights along the track tipped off bystanders to what was coming.

Moments later, a Norfolk Southern train shook the earth as it rolled through the center of Graniteville, its seemingly endless line of cars dividing one side of town from the other.

It's a daily ritual residents and town regulars went without for more than two weeks after Jan. 6, when a wreck between two trains and subsequent chlorine spill downtown led to the death of nine people and the hospitalization of hundreds more.

The respite from thundering locomotives ended Saturday, when Norfolk Southern started running its normal total of six trains through town per day.

For some, the constant chugging created by passing trains has been hammered into their heads so long, they didn't notice the return.

"I'm so used to it, I really haven't given it any thought," said Ginny Slayton, who works at Security Federal Bank across Canal Street from the train tracks.

The passing train Wednesday created a gentle purr within the bank, mostly because the railroad is running trains through the town at the reduced speed of 25 mph. Before the wreck, when trains traveled at 45 mph, the walls at the bank would shake, Ms. Slayton said.

The reduced speed might be the only blessing to come from the wreck. Local and state leaders started calling for slower train traffic in November, after a train collision with a car killed five people.

It's not certain to last.

"We don't have any plans to increase it right now," railroad spokeswoman Susan Terpay said. "As for the future, I can't say."

Ultimately, the railroad decides how fast its trains will run, said Warren Flatau, a spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration, which regulates the train industry.

"Part of what the railroad is going to argue, and there is some truth to this, is that if speeds are changing every couple of miles, that can increase the likelihood of derailment," he said. "The fact is that most train collisions occur at less than 30 mph."

And for the railroad, just like in trucking and shipping, time is money.

"We have customers who are looking for goods delivered in a timely fashion," Ms. Terpay said.

Drivers on each side of the tracks waited patiently Wednesday as the stream of railcars passed for more than five minutes. Several tanker cars were labeled "anhydrous ammonia - inhalation hazard." The warning provided a fleeting reminder of the risk.

It's a fact that many have come to accept. Tina Harrison has. She travels to Graniteville from Warrenville most days to do her banking.

"Everybody knows they've got to come back through to do business," she said.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395, ext. 113, or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.

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