Parked train raises ire of VR residents

Jessica Gallagher/Times-Georgian

Rail road Crossing sign in downtown Villa Rica.

A Norfolk Southern train blocked two intersections in Villa Rica for more than 24 hours last weekend, prompting numerous complaints and at least one instance of a delayed response to an emergency.

Mayor Jeff Reese said Tuesday that he wanted a meeting with Norfolk Southern Railway officials to discuss how similar events could be avoided in the future.

The train was left parked from at least Friday evening until Sunday evening, leaving the crossings of Cleghorn Street and Conners Road at the Douglas-Carroll County line blocked. Reese called the blockage "a potential safety issue."

He noted that a Carroll County fire unit was delayed 10 minutes in responding to a call because of the incident, but that no serious consequence was reported due to the delay.

A spokesman for the railroad said in a Tuesday statement that holding the train at the location was necessitated by reduced train operations over the holiday weekend.

"During this time we were in constant communication with the city, county and state officials, notifying them when we would move the train," said the written statement by Susan Terpay, director of public relations for Norfolk Southern Corp.

But Reese disputed that claim.

"To my knowledge, no one -- from the city manager to any elected official -- was contacted by Norfolk Southern," he said.

But several Villa Rica residents did contact Reese, who flooded his Facebook account with numerous complaints about the incident, the mayor said. The complaints were aggravated by the fact that a similar blockage had occurred the previous week.

In a Facebook post in response, Reese noted that he had "called and complained, but to no avail" and posted a photo of the crossing showing a Norfolk Southern sign asking people to call a toll-free number to "report (a) problem or emergency" at the crossing, which has an identifying number.

"So, I am suggesting that all citizens who see this as an issue call the toll free number in the attached photo and give them the crossing number," Reese told his constituents.

"I'm not trying to start World War III with Norfolk Southern," Reese said on Tuesday. "The train has been a part of Villa Rica since before Villa Rica was a city. That's not what this is about."

He said his concern was a potential safety issue.

"The main issue is, when you park a train on a side track, and you block two intersections in Villa Rica, namely Cleghorn Street and Connors Road, that presents a safety concern with the public in that emergency personnel -- fire trucks, ambulances, police - can't get to those neighborhoods without going around."

Although the blockage did not have any reported serious consequence, Reese said that the reported 10-minute delay was of serious concern.

"Ten minutes could mean the difference between life and death" in the event of a delayed emergency response, he said.

The Norfolk spokesman issued this statement:

"Due to reduced train operations over the holidays, we needed to hold trains at certain locations across our rail network, and that included the tracks that run through Villa Ricca. We ensured that two grade crossings were open for traffic. And during this time we were in constant communication with the city, county and state officials, notifying them when we would move the train. We apologize for the inconvenience to the community."

Reese said that he had directed City Manager Tom Barber to contact railroad officials and schedule a meeting to discuss this and similar incidents.

"There may not be anything that I can do," Reese said. "I'm not trying to wage war with the railroad. I just want to see if there is a viable solution to parking trains and blocking these intersections for upwards of 24 hours at a time. We're not talking about an hour delay, or two-hours, or six hours. We're talking about 24-plus hours."

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