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Railroad blues

CSX decides against announced closure of Main St. crossing

The CSX sign on North Main indicates the Main Street crossing would be closed next week.

News Staff Writer

City of Atmore officials remained at a loss following digital announcements by CSX Transportation that the rail crossing spanning the city’s busiest street would be closed this week.
However, a source close to the situation said company officials apparently aren’t even sure which crossing they will actually close, or when they’ll close it, but the one on Main Street is apparently not going to be taken out of service anytime soon.
The original announcement indicated that — effective Monday, April 11 — the city’s central railway crossing would be closed to auto traffic this week.
Police Chief Chuck Brooks said such a move would have forced him to close Main from Church Street to Ridgeley Street for the duration of the project. Such an action would cause uncertainty among motorists — especially those who work here but live elsewhere — who usually travel Main on the way to and from work.
“We hope drivers will remain patient as we work out detours,” the chief said.
The source said Saturday that CSX officials “as of right now … believe they are going to skip (the) Main Street-(Highway) 21 crossing.”
The source said the rail company would “more than likely take out the one that goes to NAPA (Auto Parts).” That would indicate the 2nd Avenue crossing will be chosen for eventual closure.
Two digital signs — one each on the southern and northern ends of Main — were set up last week by CSX. The signs announce that the Main Street crossing would be “closed next week.”
Brooks, whose agency will have to deal with the traffic confusion that evolves from any rail crossing closing, expressed frustration and bewilderment over the fact those signs are the only notice he has been given, as did Mayor Jim Staff.
“CSX is in a world of their own,” the police chief said. “They do what they want to do, whenever they want to do it.”
The mayor agreed, saying he was baffled that he hadn’t received any notification of planned crossing closings except what he read on the digital signs.
“It’s funny,” Staff said. “When they started (the closings) in Flomaton, they called me. At every new crossing they closed, they called me again. But they put up a sign saying they were going to close our busiest street, and I haven’t heard a word from them.”
The mayor also pointed out that such a courtesy notification should be a given, based upon the lease payments the city pays each year to CSX and Louisville & Nashville Railroad for the right to allow traffic to cross the tracks.
City Clerk Becca Smith said she paid a total of $5,663.16 in 2021 for right-of-way leases that carried into 2022 on seven different crossings.
Crews began Monday to place new crossties near the sites where CSX and L&N tracks intersect Trammell and Presley streets, in preparation for the annual “spring cleanup” of local crossings.
The crossbucks at both crossing, as well as those for the one on Main, reportedly remained down for less than an hour around noon on Monday after an eastbound repair vehicle passed through to trigger them but did not travel far enough to break the circuit.
Traffic backed up as vehicles circumvented the crossing arms while red lights flashed and warning bells clanged, although there was no sign of a train. Rail workers quickly remedied the problem after Brooks brought it to their attention.
Benchmark, CSX’s contractor for most crossing repairs and renovations, will reportedly notify city officials when a concrete date has been set for any crossing closings, the first of which is now tentatively scheduled to begin next week.