(Orangeburg, South Carolina – January 25, 2015)
A spate in railroad grade crossing accidents has raised safety concerns among city officials and residents alike in Orangeburg, SC, but the Norfolk Southern railroad has indicated no interest in reducing train speeds which the railroad has raised from 15 mph to 30 mph in 2000, and from 30 to 49 three months later. The city’s first complaint to the railroad regarding the city’s safety worries was via an official letter written to railroad authorities just two days before the second increase of train speeds became effective in early 2001, and the most recent request went out in November of last year.
“Norfolk Southern has made no official agreement to slow trains down as they come through the city,” stated Orangeburg City Administrator John Yow, who pointed out that, although a city ordinance limits train speeds through the city to 15 to 20 mph, the railroad claims federal exemption from local restrictions due to regulation through the interstate commerce act.
Norfolk Southern spokesman Robin Chapman offered little hope of any railroad receptivity, saying that “We operate trains through hundreds of similar-sized cities at 49 mph with few crossing incidents. What sets Orangeburg apart is the number of crossings. Orangeburg has significantly more crossings within a given distance than most places,” said the NS spokesman to Times and Democrat Writer Gene Zaleski, adding that “The more crossings you have, the greater opportunity for collisions, regardless of the speed of the trains.”
Yow, meanwhile, indicated the city was supportive of numerous crossing safety improvements, but felt any plan would have to include a reduction in train speeds. “Why not make every effort to improve safety,” Yow asked The T and D reporter. “Why is not lowering the train speed a part of that?”
Orangeburg City Councilman Bernard Haire, who has been “an outspoken critic of Norfolk Southern’s operations through the city” told the reporter that the railroads desire for higher train speeds “isn’t worth the life of the individual. The last accident that occurred is unfortunate in that we had a loss of life.”