Hattiesburg to try to keep trains moving, shorten delays at tracks

Hattiesburg to try to keep trains moving, shorten delays at tracks
A train stopped in Hattiesburg one afternoon. Source: WDAM.

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - If you drive through downtown Hattiesburg often, there is a chance you have been stuck waiting, waiting and waiting a little longer for a train stopped on the tracks.

"My granddaughter goes to Sacred Heart School, so either taking her to school or picking her up, we'll get caught," said City Council President Carter Carroll.

"They gave me a phone number to call every time I was stopped by a train and I called several times a day, that guy quit," said council member Deborah Delgado. "I'm serious, he did!"

But city leaders said the delay is no laughing matter and is more than an inconvenience at times, when it comes to a barricade for first responders.

"We do get complaints quite regularly with roadways being blocked. Sometimes in excess of fifteen minutes, thirty minutes, we have had some occasions where it's close to an hour," said Chief Administrative Officer Ann Jones. "When those roadways are blocked, then our emergency personnel can't make those calls in regards to police, fire and medical calls."

Currently, the city's ordinance states five minutes is the maximum amount of time a train can block a roadway, without uncoupling. Jones said the ordinance is silent when it comes to penalties for trains that sit for longer.

"Most ordinances that you see around the state, even in state statute is defined at $25 or $50, which is pretty nominal," Jones said. "So what we'll do is do research to make sure that we define the most, the maximum amount that will be legally approved."

Council members also talked about other possible solutions for the traffic headache many experience if the fine doesn't fix the problem. One of those ideas included an overpass.

"They are realistic, they are very expensive and we would have to decide where we are going to put it and of course there would be some widening of roads and we'd need some federal funds for that," said Carroll.

Another suggestion with a little more steam: to revisit the idea of moving the switching yard south.

"The idea of doing it ten, fifteen years down the road or having a goal of doing it," said Delgado. "But, that switching yard needs to move out of downtown if we want it to be successful."

Jones asked council members to review the research and compare ordinances in other cities with a similar culture to the Hub City, with trains a part of the community. She said a new ordinance may be drafted in the next month or so.

"We are looking forward to trying to put some resolution to this, we've been working on it for years," said Carroll.