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Hagerstown area has a rough time with some railroad crossings

June 27, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- As local governments try to keep roads even and rideable, there are certain bumps they can't make smooth.

Railroad tracks belong to the companies that own, use and, ideally, maintain them.

So, when a deteriorating CSX railroad crossing wasn't being fixed, the City of Hagerstown let drivers know where to direct complaints.

"Rough Crossing," says a sign the city posted in the area of Virginia Avenue and City Park. "Call 1-877-TELL-CSX and request CSX upgrade the crossing."

Rodney Tissue, the city's engineer, said the city writes letters and calls CSX about problems with crossings, but doesn't get far. He said public complaints seem to bring about change quicker.

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In this case, though, neither public nor government comments appear to have had much effect. A year, by Tissue's estimate, after the sign went up, the crossing -- mostly rotting wood ties around the tracks, with a patch of blacktop in one lane -- remains in disrepair.

A worn CSX crossing on Eastern Boulevard, near Security Road, might be fixed this summer.

There, CSX used rubber mats on either side of the rails to create an even plane for traffic. Joseph Kroboth III, Washington County's director of public works, called them "very nice, very smooth."

But after a train derailed in 2005, CSX "threw some asphalt in there" for a quick fix, Kroboth said.

"Since then, it's been a very rough road," he said.

Kroboth said some passing drivers swing onto the shoulder, hoping it won't be as choppy.

That happened several times during a short period on Friday night, when there was a noticeable gap between a rail and the asphalt in one lane. Some bolted-down rubber mats dipped when wheels rolled over them, then sprang back up.

Kroboth said CSX has tentatively committed to work on the crossing, possibly late in the summer.

It's not clear how extensive the repair will be. Regardless, that section of road probably will be closed for at least a few days, Kroboth said.

Representatives for CSX, which is based in Jacksonville, Fla., said Thursday and Friday that someone would answer questions about the crossings for this story.

However, CSX spokesman Bob Sullivan said Friday night he had been traveling, had just gotten a message and wouldn't be able to immediately get any information.

In general, though, it takes CSX at least a few days to work on a crossing, he said.

Sullivan agreed local governments don't repair crossings that belong to railroad companies.

Near Hagerstown's City Park, the crossing with rotting wood ties is in the worst shape of three that are roughly within a stone's throw of each other. Many drivers slow down, or even stop, before going over it.

At a smooth, paved crossing maybe 100 feet away, where South Prospect Street meets the park, drivers maintain their speed as they go by.

The condition of a third crossing, at Summit Avenue, appears somewhere between the other two.

About a year ago, CSX repaired three other problematic railroad crossings in the county, Kroboth said.

For the Eastern Boulevard crossing, it took "repeated calls" from the county, residents and CSX's own maintenance crews, who inspect tracks, before the company pledged to repair it, he said.

Kroboth said he liked the city's approach of putting up a sign with information about reaching CSX, "if nothing else, to educate the public."

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