Council hears request for railroad crossing

FRONT ROYAL – Town leaders showed interest Monday in helping Mary’s Shady Lane residents deal with a railroad crossing.

But Town Council didn’t commit to residents’ requests to declare the Norfolk Southern Railway crossing public for the purposes of notification in the event of a closing. The railroad company recently closed the crossing that affected residents on Shenandoah Shores Road and Mary’s Shady Lane.

Eva Challis asked Town Council, on behalf of fellow Mary Shady’s Lane residents, to work with Norfolk and Southern to make the crossing public.

“That’s what we’re really desperate to hear especially since we were not included in the conversation when Shenandoah Shores was discussed,” Challis said.

Vice Mayor Hollis Tharpe asked what council could do to help the residents, whom he noted live outside Front Royal but still come into town. Town Manager Steve Burke said Front Royal could try to expand its relationship with Norfolk Southern. Burke noted that Challis and the other residents are seeking more advance notice from the railroad company on future closings of the crossing. He added that the railroad company also doesn’t always notify the Virginia Department of Transportation about closings of the crossing.

Mayor Timothy Darr said the town, short of designating the crossing as public, should at least find a way to make sure the railroad company notifies the residents.

Challis said the company in 2006 denied her request for a private agreement on the grounds that the crossing was already public. Federal highway regulations indicate that a private railroad crossing is not intended for public use but the crossing is used daily by the public, including the U.S. Postal Service and VDOT, Challis said.

Front Royal does not maintain the private road and the route does not meet the municipality’s standards, Burke said. The road would need to be brought up to local standards in order for the town to take it into the system for maintenance. Should that happen, the town would need to determine the cost to install cross arms and other equipment at the crossing, Burke said. That cost has been estimated at about $250,000.

Town officials recommend that Warren County and/or the residents of that area would need to cover the cost of the road improvements, Burke said.

“Short of that, we will continue to work with Norfolk and Southern to try to give as much advance notice of any work in the area as possible,” Burke said.

But Burke noted that he didn’t know if the town had the ability to declare a railroad crossing a public crossing if the town’s road doesn’t abut the railroad’s easement on both sides, as is the case. Shenandoah Shores abuts the crossing on both sides, Burke said.

Challis pointed out that Front Royal owns one side of Mary’s Shady Lane because the town recently made improvements to Happy Creek Road. David Vazzana, of Front Royal Limited Partnership, the owner of land recently annexed into town that includes Mary’s Shady Lane, has voiced support for the residents’ request, Challis said.

Challis cited information provided in a document by the previous Town Attorney Blair Mitchell, now the county attorney for Warren County, that noted Mary’s Shady Lane is a “Pre-Byrd” public road. Legislation in the early 1920s called for the state to take certain roads into the transportation system, Councilman Eugene Tewalt said. However, roads now must span at least 50 feet in order for the state to take them into the system, Tewalt noted.

Challis questioned the statement Burke made that the road serves no town residents. Again citing Mitchell’s notes, the town’s interest in the southern portion of Mary’s Shady Lane comes in part because Front Royal has a sewer line that crosses the road. Mary’s Shady Lane also provides access to the sewer line easement, Challis read. Mitchell stated in the document that the town has a right to use Mary’s Shady Lane to access to the sewer line given the road’s status.

“You’re saying town residents aren’t served but the Happy Creek Industrial Park, which is a town property, only has sewer and water because it goes through Mary’s Shady Lane,” Challis said. “You all put that in by using Mary’s Shady Lane so I think you all believe it is a public road.”

Burke explained the town has an easement for the sewer line.

“So in order to keep maintaining it you’ll keep using Mary’s Shady Lane?” Challis asked.

“We would use whatever access is available,” Burke said.

“When we said ‘served,’ (that) means houses not utilities,” Tewalt added.

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