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Town Council talk train concerns, Fourth of July

By Tabitha Johnston - Chronicle Staff | Jun 11, 2021


SHEPHERDSTOWN — On Tuesday evening, the Shepherdstown Town Council met for its final monthly meeting on Zoom. Beginning in July, following the state’s lowering of its mask ordinance on June 20, the meetings will resume being held in-person.

The main topic of the Zoom meeting focused on issues Shepherdstown residents and emergency services personnel have dealt with, due to lengthened trains blocking multiple railroad track crossings in town at one time. According to Shepherdstown Chief of Police Mike King, Norfolk Southern Railway recently changed the length of its trains, so that some reach as long as three miles in length, which can be problematic for small towns with multiple railroad crossings.

“We received two emails from people in Sage Place, which is near the tracks, [about the train issue], so it’s a matter of great concern to them,” said Mayor Jim Auxer.

According to King and Auxer, the town is addressing the situation in a number of ways. It has communicated with the state attorney and Norfolk Southern Railway about these issues. It also plans on sending a package of letters from area entities and municipalities similarly negatively effected by the train length change. It has already contacted Sen. Joe Manchin and is planning to contact Sen. Shelly Moore Capito to get their support in dealing with this issue.

“This is really a serious issue! We know what we have to do, and we have a plan,” Auxer said, mentioning the public is encouraged to weigh in on the situation. “If any of you all out there have any input about that, I appreciate you getting that through to us.”

One of the entities that will be adding its letter to the packet sent from the town is the Shepherdstown Volunteer Fire Department, according to EMS Chief Marshall DeMeritt. DeMeritt is often called out to deal with local hazmat cleanup issues, and said the trains can delay the time-sensitive situations from being dealt with for much longer than ideal. The Town Council agreed with the idea to suggest that, if Norfolk Southern Railway decides to retain its current train lengths, it develop a plan for moving its trains out of the way when emergency services need to get through, such as by backing up into a free intersection.

“Unfortunately for Shepherdstown, 12 cars can block off a lot,” King said, referring to the multiple mile-long trains. “The only thing on our side, is that they may not block a road for 10 minutes unless it’s an emergency. The incident in May, where the crossings were blocked, was a train malfunction. The unfortunate part about that is that once that happens, the people on the train must walk the length of the train to make sure everything’s working properly before they can move the train. Some of the malfunctions we’ve seen are not actually malfunctions, like when they’re passing two large trains at the Morgan’s Grove crossing. They have to slow down the trains at that crossing to be able to get by.”

Also approved in the meeting was the SVFD’s request to parade its large American flag down German Street on the Fourth of July, as it did last year. The short event will require the street to be closed down from 11-11:20 a.m. that morning. As the event did not draw too large of a crowd to allow for social distancing last year, the Town Council deemed it safe enough to hold again this year, in spite of the rest of the Fourth of July Parade being cancelled.