Railroad overpass at crossing sought

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County residents could see some relief from trains blocking key crossings north of town – in six years or more.

The Port of Virginia, also known as the Virginia Port Authority, applied for grant funding through the U.S. Department of Transportation to construct a grade-separated crossing, or overpass, at the Norfolk Southern Railroad tracks and Rockland Road. The crossing lies near the Virginia Inland Port north of Front Royal in Warren County.

However, even if the port receives the federal grant money, construction of the project likely would not start until 2022, Deputy County Administrator Robert Childress said Tuesday. The Port of Virginia has to file its grant application by April 25.

Warren County officials updated the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday on efforts to find a solution to an ongoing problem – trains stopped at the port extend past crossings at and block traffic at Rockland, Fairground and Ashby Station roads. School buses often remain stopped at these crossings, making students’ rides last close to two hours in some cases.

Some local funding would be required for such a project to move forward, Childress told the board. Port officials have looked at previous TIGER grants and the funding of similar crossings and found that the federal agency has covered 50 percent of the cost of such projects, Childress said. While the federal government would fund $5.5 million of an $11 million project, the county would need to come up with the rest, he noted.

The port has reached out to congressional leaders to secure funding. Norfolk Southern has agreed to fund up to 5 percent of the cost, Childress said. The county could apply this fall for state House Bill 2 funding under which the project would be ranked among others throughout Virginia. Other funding might be available given that Rockland Road also is a federal, secondary route, Childress added.

County officials, the Virginia Department of Transportation and Norfolk Southern representatives have discussed the problem for at least 10 years, Childress noted.

“Ultimately, a grade-separated overpass or underpass bridge, if you will, is the solution for at least one of the locations,” Childress said.

A design prepared for the port by the Virginia Department of Transportation and shown to supervisors depicts a reconfigured intersection of Rockland Road and Fishnet Boulevard to the east of the railroad tracks and to the north of the existing crossing. The overpass lies to the north of the existing crossing and connects with a realigned Rockland Road.

Childress pointed out that trains across the roads can close the crossings for up to an hour at a time.

“Trains stopped at any one of those crossings can result in numerous delays for residents, commuters, school transportation, emergency services,” Childress said.

The trains also can block truck traffic going to industrial sites as well as doctors who live in the Rockland area and travel the roads to their offices, Childress added.

The problem has existed for years but compounded since Norfolk Southern added a second track parallel to the other years ago, Childress noted. At one point, the port had reached an agreement with the railroad company to limit train loading and unloading to hours between times that buses likely would need to cross the tracks.

An overpass at Fairground Road would not likely be as feasible, if at all, given that several homes lie in close proximity to the crossing and VDOT would need to remove all or part of the properties.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com