As railroad crossing blockages continue, upset residents plan to attend meeting

Liz Beavers
Mineral Daily News-Tribune
This photo taken by North End resident Marques Rice shows a Mineral County School bus waiting on a train to clear the North Main Street crossing so the students can be dropped off at the bus stops after school.

KEYSER - After numerous phone calls and one railroad crossing blockage that lasted over two hours, the residents of Keyser’s North End have finally been able to set up a public meeting to discuss the problem with several key players.

Although trains blocking the only two crossings into the mostly residential North End have been a problem for years, several residents told the News Tribune in early December that the frequency has escalated over the past year.

At that time, resident Wendy Spiker said one blockage had lasted an hour and 20 minutes, making her late for work and her kids late to school.

Since then, however, a number of residents found themselves waiting on a train on Dec. 27 that blocked both crossings for over two hours.

“It was two hours and seven minutes, right at 7:45 in the evening,” resident Marques Rice said Thursday, noting that after receiving numerous calls from Keyser, CSX did finally break the train to clear the crossings and allow the residents through.

“They finally broke it up behind Martin’s and pulled it down behind Southern States,” he said.

Thanks to an area train enthusiast with a radio, the residents waiting to cross the tracks were able to determine there was actually a mechanical issue at the root of that particular blockage, but Rice feels they could have cut the train and moved it long before it sat there for two hours.

Some of those waiting got tired and decided to cross anyway.

“Six people crawled under the train just while I was sitting there,” Rice said.

He estimates the crossings have been blocked seven or eight times just since he spoke with the News Tribune in December.

“And that’s not counting the ones around 2 a.m.,” he said.

Each time a blockage occurred, residents got on the phone to file a complaint with CSX. They also got on the phone with Keyser’s mayor and council members, with Del. Gary Howell, and even the Governor’s office - anyone they could think of that might listen to their plight.

Howell, in turn, made his own calls to the Governor’s office and the United States Department of Transportation Signal and Train Control Division, inviting them to send a representative to Keyser.

Finally, this past Sunday, Rice got the call he’d been waiting for.

A representative of the USDOT said he’d be in Keyser to attend a meeting with the residents.

The meeting has been set up for 6:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 14, at Keyser Fire Station No. 2.

According to Rice, representatives of the West Virginia Division of Highways and the CSX corporation have been invited, along with someone from the Governor’s office, the Keyser mayor and council, Keyser Fire Department, and Keyser Police Department, among others.

“Now is the time to be heard and discuss this very serious issue,” Rice said in an announcement on his Facebook page. “Please attend if you have a stake or concern in this issue.”

Calling the upcoming meeting a first important step, Rice says he’s not stopping until the North End residents get some help.

“I don’t want to be on the other end of a tragedy,” he said.

Liz Beavers is a veteran writer and managing editor of the Mineral Daily News Tribune. To reach out to her with a story idea, email lbeavers@newstribune.info.