The railroad company responsible for unfinished maintenance work at a North Charleston railroad crossing has promised the city it would provide an interim solution.
On Monday, Virginia-based Norfolk Southern Corp., which abandoned maintenance work at its railroad crossing on Ashley Phosphate Road, promised North Charleston leaders that it would send crews to make the crossing safer.
This came after the company was largely unresponsive to the city's complaints that the crossing was causing accidents and vehicle damages, said Councilman Ron Brinson.
"They're on alert now," Brinson said of the railroad company. “They are going to send some crews out to see what they can do in the short run to make it smoother and safer.”
Norfolk, which owns several train lines that run through North Charleston, began maintenance work in November at crossings on Remount Road, Midland Park Road, Aviation Avenue and Ashley Phosphate.
Norfolk stopped midway through maintenance work at Ashley Phosphate. Workers left behind uneven, bumpy asphalt around the crossing and piles of asphalt and old crossing bed pieces on both sides of the road.
"We're hearing of accidents," said Brinson, who noted that the road sees over 50,000 vehicles a day.
When North Charleston originally inquired about a timeline, officials were told by Norfolk that work would resume in January.
The company said the maintenance work, which is part of a major rail replacement project that occurs every 50 years, is a multi-week process.
“Norfolk Southern is replacing 14.4 miles of rail between Charleston and Summerville,” said spokesperson Susan Terpay. “It’s a multi-step process that takes place over several weeks or longer ...The next step will take place in January when a crew of 90 people and 41 pieces of rail equipment will lay new rail.”
In the meantime, drivers are annoyed.
Angel Cruz, who works at Angel Insurance near the tracks, was concerned that his new 2019 Lexus RC would suffer damages.
"I hit it so hard one time I thought I messed up my rim," Cruz said. "It's a safety hazard."
Another resident was nearly hit when an oncoming car went airborne after it bumped across the crossing.
But North Charleston and S.C. Department of Transportation had their hands tied. Because train tracks are railroad company rights of way, they are off limits to state and local governments. North Charleston said that up until Monday, Norfolk was largely unresponsive to the city's complaints.
“Railroads operate in a parallel universe. They have all kinds of statutory and common law rights that create that parallel universe," Brinson said. "They’re probably on legal ground on what they're doing. But they’re impacting the lives of the 50,000 vehicles that pass through their every business day. I don’t believe they’ll want that kind of unintended consequence."
DOT acknowledged frustration, as well.
“If we could do something about I’d assure you we would," said DOT Commissioner Robby Robbins.
It's not unusual for railroad maintenance to frustrate residents and local officials. Railroad companies are responsible for routine work on their tracks, which includes replacing crossing beds, trimming trees near rail lines and demolishing abandoned buildings near tracks that pose safety hazards. The crossings are also bumpy, and maintenance often causes detours.
But the issue here is that the railroad company abandoned the project midway and was largely unresponsive to local leaders, until now.
“We’ve had problems before with uneven rail crossings. But we’ve never had this problem when the railroad would start a project then abandon it," Brinson said.