BARTON — Residents of Pride Estates in eastern Colbert County are used to stopping at the railroad crossing near U.S. 72 for a passing Norfolk Southern freight train, but over the past few years, they've been frustrated by trains stopping and blocking the crossing, sometimes for hours at a time.
The worst part is there is no other way out of the neighborhood of about 20 homes.
"I've been dealing with the trains ever since I moved here," said Tracy Humber, who has lived in the neighborhood for 2 1/2 years.
Some weeks, he might get stopped once, and other weeks it could be three or four times. Humber could be stopped for a half hour, or as long as two hours, he said.
"It's aggravating when you come home early and think you're going fishing," he said.
The popular Pride Landing boat launch on the Tennessee River is about a mile away from the crossing. District Six Colbert County Commissioner Charlie Hovater said anglers and their boats can be lined up in the turn lane and shoulder of U.S. 72 in the early morning for hours waiting for a train to move so they can get to the ramp.
Other times, frustrated anglers are waiting on the other side of the crossing so they can go home after a day of fishing, he said.
Residents have been late to work, school and church. They have missed appointments, and have had ice cream they just bought melt before they were able to get home.
Hovater said one resident was trying to get to a local hospital where her aunt was dying and was unable to get there before she passed away.
Mike and Shelia Holway have lived in Pride Estates for 25 years. They said the problem has gotten worse in the past five years.
Shelia Holway said she's left messages for local Norfolk Southern officials, who have not returned her calls.
Mike Holway said the family recently moved to Florence for his daughter to attend high school, but he wants to move back once she graduates.
"The one thing I don't miss about living out here is the trains," he said.
Holway said he told his children not to park on the shoulder and wait for the train to move. He said people have crawled under and over trains to get across the tracks when a train is stopped.
Billy and Vicky Burton have lived in Pride Estates for the past 12 years. They have seen trains block the crossing for as long as four hours.
Vicky Burton said she wrote to a compliance officer with Norfolk Southern, only to be told they "would get back to her." When they did reply, Burton said she was told they didn't find any problems.
In a later correspondence, she was told, "You knew the railroad tracks were here when you moved in."
She was grateful there wasn't a train blocking the crossing when they had to take her ailing father to the hospital while he was living with them.
"On two occasions, we had to take him to the emergency room," Burton said. "Had one (train) been there (at the crossing), he would have died. At some point, it's really going to catch somebody that needs to get out."
County Engineer John Bedford said he's offered an alternative location to the east where a train could stop and allow another train to pass, but Nortfolk Southern officials will not discuss it with him.
He said one crossing would be blocked, but a secondary crossing would be available.
"We've had four or five meetings with the same people and we get the same answers," Bedford said. "I can't understand why they can't tell me my simple fix is not simple."
Bedford said railroad officials suggested building a road leading to the nearby crossing, but offered no financial assistance.
Hovater said he may ask the commission to consider building a gravel road that residents could use when the crossing is blocked. That would require the county securing right of way from adjoining landowners.
The property is bordered to the east by Vulcan Materials and the Tennessee Valley Authority to the west.
A Norfolk Southern media relations official said the railroad is committed to enhancing the safety and efficiency of rail operations for its customers and the communities they serve.
"Norfolk Southern is aware of the concerns in Colbert County, Alabama," a railroad representative said. "We are looking into the matter and working closely with our transportation team to review local operations."
The representative said Norfolk Southern makes every effort to minimize the time that trains interrupt motor vehicle traffic at railroad crossings, but at times, operational situations might require a train to stop or slow, resulting in a temporarily blocked crossing.
The railroad offers its apologies for any inconvenience, the official said.
If a train blocks a crossing for an extended period of time, residents can contact Norfolk Southern Police at 800-946-4744. This number is on the emergency notification sign posted at every highway-rail grade crossing.
Burton said she's called the number in the past, and sometimes the train will move shortly after the call.