LEIGHTON — Robin Hallmark said closing the College Street railroad crossing has been an inconvenience, but if it means progress, she can deal with it.

"I'm cool with it," she said. "I know it's progress."

Hallmark said she lives on Circle Drive near Leighton Elementary School and used College Street to get to the house of her boyfriend, Emmett Randolph. Now she has to drive to Main Street to get to his house.

The College Street crossing has been closed to make way for a nearly 3-mile long Norfolk Southern Railway passing track, a section of track that allows one train to exit the main line and wait until an oncoming train can pass by.

Grading has begun on the the spur beginning near the College Street crossing and heading east. The crossing has been closed, large barricades have been erected, and a "dead end" sign placed near Randolph's home.

Hallmark said they've been working the past two or three weeks.

Randolph said he moved into the house about four months ago and College Street was fairly busy.

"There was a good bit of traffic coming through the neighborhood," he said.

Since the crossing was closed, he said traffic has died down.

Rachel McDonnell Bradshaw, Norfolk Southern Railway's manager of Community Outreach, said the railroad is extending a siding in Leighton to better accommodate freight traffic moving through the town and between Memphis and Chattanooga, Tennessee. 

Bradshaw said the new passing track will have a "clear length" of approximately 14,469 feet, or roughly 2 3/4 miles. 

"The clear length is the available "storage space" with which our trains can sit in our siding without blocking our mainline operation," she said.

The passing track will apparently not help alleviate the issue of trains blocking railroad crossings in Sheffield, Tuscumbia and Muscle Shoals.

"Rail traffic is steadily growing and the patterns are constantly changing," Bradshaw said. "We encourage every community to make infrastructure investments to benefit citizens' transportation and safety needs."

The Colbert County Commission is seeking a grant that would fund a railroad overpass study along the rail line through the cities.

Leighton Mayor John Landers said the railroad purchased right of way from local farmers and will develop drainage infrastructure as part of the project.

"They will build an access road for the farmers so they can get in and out of their farms," Landers said.

In return for closing the College Street Crossing, the railroad will upgrade the Main Street and Sadie Robertson Street crossings in Leighton.

Bradshaw said the crossings will be upgraded to include automatic warning devices, which include lights, bells and gates at both crossings.

The Main Street crossing has a crossbuck with lights and bells and a stop sign.

Hallmark said a friend who visited Leighton from Ohio said she'd never seen a railroad crossing with a stop sign. The Sadie Robertson Road crossing only has a crossbuck.

Bradshaw said the safety improvements will be completed in the next six to 12 months.

Judd Young, the local transportation engineer at the Alabama Department of Transportation's Tuscumbia Area Office, said the Transportation Department pays for the safety upgrades at railroad crossings. 

Associate County Transportation manager Mike Burkhalter said the Transportation Department develops the plans for the upgrades and sends them to the railroad, which provides contractors to complete the work. 

A statewide program to improve safety at railroad crossings funds the upgrades.

"We just reimburse them out of that pot of money," Burkhalter said.

Robert Davis, who lives near the Sadie Robertson Road crossing, said he welcomes the additional safety measures.

"It will be a big improvement," Davis said.

russ.corey@timesdaily.com

or 256-740-5738. Twitter

@TD_.RussCorey

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