Stalled freight trains trap people in neighborhood

LINDEN – Paul Shiflett awakened at 4 a.m. Friday to hear a Norfolk Southern train rumbling to a halt on the tracks near his house.

Trains, some of them well over a mile long, have been stalling on the tracks for quite a while now. But the one on Friday took an unusually long time to resume traveling westward toward Front Royal.

Shiflett said the train blocked a track crossing that is the only access off of John Marshall Highway to the subdivision where he lives. Two of his neighbors couldn’t get into work, he said.

“We were blocked for a total of eight hours,” Shiflett said.

Susan Terpay, director of public relations for Norfolk Southern, confirmed that a train had stalled on the tracks near Shiflett’s home. She blamed the unusually cold weather and rugged landscape for the mechanical breakdown.

“The train didn’t have enough power because of ice and snow to go up the mountain, so we had to bring a second train to push it up the mountain,” Terpay said. She estimated it took “more than six hours” for crews to clear the tracks.

“It was something that was out of our control, and we brought all the resources we could to solve it,” Terpay said.

Shiflett has lived at his residence for 60 years, a period when trains running past his house have grown bigger, longer and heavier.

“It’s gotten worse over the years as we’ve gotten more trains,” Shiflett said of the blockages.

Shiflett has been keeping a log of incidents when trains have blocked the railroad crossing and prevented residents from getting out of their homes. The log shows 11 blockages since Sept. 23, the shortest of which was one hour.

The eight-hour blockage from 4 a.m. until 12:15 p.m. Friday was the worst, but not the only one on that day. Shiflett recorded another blockage from 7:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m.

Shiflett said he and his neighbors are especially worried that a mechanical breakdown could prevent public safety workers from reaching their neighborhood during a medical emergency.

“Nobody’s been sick,” Shiflett said. “Nobody has been hurt and needed to get out for an emergency. But we don’t know when that day might happen.”

Tony Carter, a member of Warren County Board of Supervisors, lives a few miles west of Shiflett along the railroad track. Carter said trains struggle to get up an incline in Fauquier County where Shiflett lives. They start gaining momentum as they reach Linden where the track levels out.

Carter said Warren County has had some problems with disabled trains blocking traffic, but the area where he lives has not experienced any major delays for several years.

Carter said his subdivision has an alternative road for use in medical emergencies, but others living close to railroad tracks may not be so lucky. A long train can take four or five minutes to pass a crossing even when there are no mechanical problems.

“It’s always a concern when you have only one way into your subdivision, and you have a medical emergency,” Carter said.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com