Bill would impose fines for long train stoppages at rail crossings

Stoppages have frustrated Baldwin residents for months

File photo
File photo

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – There may be hope yet for Baldwin officials and residents frustrated by seemingly constant traffic headaches caused by trains stopping at rail crossings around town.

A bill filed in the Florida House of Representatives would make it illegal for trains to stop at rail crossings for extended periods of time without good reason – and impose fines on violators.

"It's terrible," Baldwin resident Marvin Legiste said. "They will tell you horror stories about these trains."

House Bill 309 was filed Jan. 16 by state Rep. Wyman Duggan, whose district covers part of Duval County including the town of Baldwin. 

DOCUMENT: Read a copy of House Bill 309

“It’s not as if this was caused by some hurricane damage to the rail yard that was a one-off event. It’s ongoing and it’s their new mode of operation for that rail yard,” Duggan said.

He said the issue was first brought to his attention when he met with Baldwin Mayor Sean Lynch shortly after he began campaigning for office in fall 2017. It’s been a priority of his ever since.

“That was the first thing he mentioned and it was pretty much the only thing we talked about because it was affecting every aspect of life out there,” he said.

The issue is so widespread, he noted, that it impacts everyone from workers trying to drive into town for lunch, to first responders heading to emergencies to students returning from school.

"'Bam,' they all hit at once and then you’re sitting there for two hours," Baldwin resident Brittany Smith said. "We have had school bus drivers, teachers talk about students are late to class because their bus got stopped at a train. That’s not fair to students. That’s taking away from their learning time.  That’s unacceptable."

The mayor said trains have been sitting on Baldwin tracks, blocking access, for years. 

"It started about March 2017 when CSX decided to earn more dividends and made more money. They made the trains twice as long. They went from a 7,000-foot train to a 15,000-foot train. The yard in Baldwin can't cope with a 15,000-foot train, so they have to extend the train to build the train and the carriages out over the road and do all the testing," Lynch said. "CSX needs to get a bigger yard built in this area, and once they have a bigger yard, they can build the trains in the yard and move the trains out."

Lynch said he believes it's a situation in which corporate America is taking advantage of small-town American.

"I think corporations like CSX forget where they came from. Half of Baldwin is retired on CSX pensions or railway pensions," he said. "We aren't against the railway. The town was built around the railway. We like the trains. We don't mind them as long as they are moving. It's when they are stopped for hours at a time they become a problem."

A CSX spokesperson on Friday sent News4Jax the following statement:

CSX’s goal is to move freight safely and efficiently as we work to provide excellent service to customers across our network.  There are times when a crossing may unavoidably be blocked by trains heading in or out of the rail yard in Baldwin. We work to limit the impact of our operations to the extent possible."

Under the bill, trains would not be allowed to stop at certain rail crossings for more than 15 minutes unless there’s a safety-related emergency or the train breaks down.

Violators would face fines starting at $200 for stoppages shorter than 20 minutes. Stoppages lasting longer than an hour could carry fines of $1,200, plus an additional $1,000 for every 15 minutes after that.

When he filed the legislation, Duggan was under the impression it was to fix a problem that was unique to Baldwin and its residents. But he’s since heard similar complaints from other districts.

“Clearly it’s more than just Baldwin and the bill could help them as well,” he said.

He also heard from Craig Camuso, regional vice president of state government affairs for CSX, who acknowledged the company was researching the frequency and duration of stoppages.

“I’m appreciative that they’re now engaging, and I want to make it clear I’m happy to work with them,” said Duggan.

The House bill is currently in the transportation and infrastructure subcommittee. A companion measure, Senate Bill 608, was filed Wednesday by State Sen. Aaron Bean, whose district covers Nassau County and part of Duval County.

DOCUMENT: Read a copy of Senate Bill 608

If passed by the Legislature, it could become law as soon as July. 

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