Stopped trains causing headaches for Helena

Helena Mayor Mark Hall and Police Chief Doug Jones penned a letter to CSX Transportation discussing the ongoing issue of trains blocking crossings in the Helena city limits. (File)

Helena Mayor Mark Hall and Police Chief Doug Jones penned a letter to CSX Transportation discussing the ongoing issue of trains blocking crossings in the Helena city limits. (File)

By GRAHAM BROOKS / Staff Writer

HELENA–For years, the city of Helena has had an ongoing issue of trains clogging major roadways in the city that causes frustration for those living or traveling in the Helena area.

Helena Mayor Mark Hall and Police Chief Doug Jones collaborated and penned a letter to representatives of CSX Transportation Inc. detailing their frustrations with trains stopping and blocking crossing for an extended period of time.

“Me and the chief got together and penned a letter pointing out the difficulties of where trains have been stopping in Helena and not moving,” Hall said at an April 6 pre-council work session.

The letter, which was sent to CSX on March 23, reads “Over the course of the last year alone, we have had issues with trains blocking the crossings on Alabama State Highway 261 over 30 times. Highway 261 is a major north/south route through the heart of our city with thousands of vehicles traveling it every day and blockages of this frequency and duration are unacceptable.”

Hall made it clear that the main way to solve the problem with slow moving or stopped trains would be to construct a bypass route to avoid the trains.

“The key is a dedicated highway,” said Hall. “We looked at the latest findings on our bypass and one of the things I requested then was the design and engineering that they’re doing that’s paying for this bypass project is to compromise from a four-lane to a two-lane highway temporarily just to give us a route in and out of town to go over the railroad tracks.”

Other municipalities such as Pelham have expressed interest in a flyover for County Road 52 to help alleviate the problems.

“Everybody’s pushing as hard as they can to find funding which would be the ultimate answer to the railroad problem because lets face it, CSX and trains are not going to stop coming through here,” said Hall.

The letter also points out the negative effects of the blockages besides just being an inconvenience.

“With the growing number of crossing blockages, the ripple affects our city financially as well. Vehicle traffic comes to a standstill and residents cannot get to area businesses to shop. In addition, people outside the city cannot come in to do business within the city, and that costs us valuable revenue,” the letter states.