DADE CITY — Stopped trains that block traffic for hours in Dade City may be a thing of the past.
In the future, if a train has to stop in town for an extended period, CSX Transportation Inc. has instructed its crews to separate the train cars at rail crossings to allow motorists through, the company said in a statement released Wednesday evening.
“We understand the frustrations of residents and local officials and are making operational adjustments,” the statement said. “CSX will make every attempt to keep trains running through Dade City except under emergency circumstances.”
Even as the company was vowing to fix the problem, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, was calling for a Federal Railroad Administration investigation.
“Senior officials within this federal agency with jurisdictional oversight have assured me that they will conduct a thorough investigation into what occurred in both cases and take proactive steps to ensure that similar incidents are avoided,” Bilirakis wrote in a letter to the editor he sent to The Tampa Tribune.
“I also called leaders within CSX to put them on notice that this type of behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”
The CSX statement saying it planned to make sure traffic can get past any stopped train came after Sheriff Chris Nocco wrote a letter to the CSX chairman, saying the company’s actions in blocking roadways for hours while crews changed shifts amounted to “willful negligence.”
CSX trains have blocked Dade City intersections for lengthy periods twice in a little over a month, backing up traffic and causing city officials to express concerns about the public safety implications if emergency vehicles were blocked from getting to someone in need of assistance.
The latest instance happened Tuesday morning when a train blocked streets from about 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. City Manager Billy Poe already had complained in a letter to CSX last month when a train blocked intersections for five hours on July 11.
CSX apologized for the July blockage and promised to give the city a warning if a similar situation happened again. The company said federal regulations limit a train crew’s hours of service to 12 hours, and when their time runs out a dispatcher tells them to stop the train.