Railroad News

Atlanta TV Station Battles Class-One Railroads over Crossing Surface Conditions

(Atlanta, Georgia – January 9, 2013)

Although the primary objective of Atlanta, GA CBS affiliate WGCL-TV, Channel 46’s “Pothole Patrol” feature is to call attention to and have repaired dangerous potholes in streets and roads within its viewing area, the segment’s host, Harry Samler, has frequently found himself directed by the station’s viewers to railroad crossing surfaces in and around Atlanta. But unlike municipalities, county and state agencies responsible for public roadways, the railroads – in particular, CSX and Norfolk Southern – have Samler and his staff frustrated in their attempts to help motorists encounter smoother, safer surfaces on Atlanta-area roadways.

The situation worsened again this week when another accident occurred at the poorly-designed and maintained intersection of Broad Street, Mozely Road and Norfolk Southern railroad tracks in the DeKalb County city of Douglasville, GA. Drivers negotiating the crossing find both changing elevations and traffic directions coupled with deep drop-offs from road surface to the ballast of the railroad tracks, a situation – rather, a trap — virtually lying in wait for the unsuspecting motorist, with Channel 46 news staff referring to the intersection as “the crossing that eats cars.”

The most recent accident – which occurred Tuesday afternoon when 71-year-old motorist Narvis Penson became another statistic at the crossing – one of more than two dozen, according to the count of Douglasville Chief of Police Chris Womack – by misjudging the curvature of the crossing and getting her car stuck in the surface/track trap, fortunately being helped by witnesses to escape her vehicle only seconds before a NS freight train bore down upon her, striking her car and carrying it more than a quarter mile down the tracks with her purse still inside.

Mrs. Penson would be needing her purse, as Douglasville Police issued her a citation for “obstructing a railroad crossing,” setting a court date of February 13.

Chief Womack had no explanation for the “insult-to-injury” traffic ticket, but did have words for the railroad. “I’m by no means a roadway engineer, but it looks like a simple fix and it doesn’t look like a high-dollar fix,” said the Chief.

While thanking God for watching over her safety Tuesday, Mrs. Penson also had plenty to say to the railroad. “The need to fix it (the crossing surface). I could have been dead!”

CBS Atlanta had warned NS about the crossing for nearly a year, hoping the Tuesday incident would “finally open their (NS management) eyes. Instead, all eyes are tightly shut!”

But Pothole Patrol host Samler’s campaign for better grade crossing surfaces had neither started with nor been exclusive to the Douglasville NS crossing.

In December, while Samler and his cameraman were investigating the horrendous surface of the CSX Boulevard South crossing, a passing motorist suggested he focus upon the CSX crossing of Laredo Drive in Avondale Estates.  Taking the tip, Samler moved his crew to the Laredo Drive/CSX intersection the following day, where he discovered what he described as “If it’s not the worst, it’s got to be one of the top five worst railroad crossings that Pothole Patrol has covered.”

Samler referred to CSX policy of being “a vision to be the safest North American railroad” as he dubbed the Laredo Drive crossing “a railroad crossing unlike anything we’ve ever seen.” As in all cases, the accusations were backed up with plenty of video coverage of loose surface material, protruding spikes, pumping rails and backed-up vehicular traffic trying desperately to escape allowing the crossing’s rough surface to trigger their vehicles’ demise.

“In Pothole Patrol’s semi-unprofessional opinion, the Laredo Drive crossing is a hazard, and at minimum, a nuisance that needs to be addressed,” concluded Samler, even though he knew the battle for better railroad/roadway crossing surfaces was far from over.

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