By Tyler Pruett, Managing Editor
FORT PAYNE, Ala. — According to Fort Payne City Councilman Randall Ham in an online video earlier this month:[blockquote style="2"]"I've listened to your concerns, and I've taken action. I have a meeting scheduled later this month (September) with Norfolk Southern to discuss what we see as a major obstacle to our city, and see what remedies are available. We'll talk about short term possibilities, as well as a long range plan, to provide a permanent solution," [/blockquote]
According to federal law, railroad overpasses and improvements are not the responsibility of the railroad, they are the responsibility of the local entity, also known as, the City of Fort Payne.
Trains have the right of way, much like barges have the right of way on rivers over recreational traffic. When it comes to federal law, size dictates. The larger trains have the right-of-way over trucks and normal road traffic.
The only thing that a railroad company is required to provide is what is commonly referred to as “crossbucks.” It’s the sign that forms an “X” and is white at each crossing.
Any kind of other sign, traffic signals, overpasses, or other improvements, squarely fall on the federal, state, and local government.
In terms of an overpass, it would be a city’s overpass if it’s a city road, a county’s overpass if it’s a county road, and state’s overpasses if it’s a state road. And even though it's a state highway, it still falls under the city's responsibility to get a project started since the crossings in question are within it's limits.
As far as the "meeting" goes, it was a standard safety meeting held by the railroad each year with the city. It was to discuss a new safety initiative at crossings, not to discuss building overpasses. The meeting was a routine meeting that is on the schedule every year for the city. No candidate had the meeting scheduled.
When it comes to the train problem in Fort Payne, it’s the city’s responsibility to apply for grants and get a project started. While this project would be expensive, there exists several funding programs available from the federal to state level that would help the city achieve this goal.
According to the Section 130 program, a part of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, “program funds are eligible for projects at all public crossings including roadways, bike trails and pedestrian paths (http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/xings/).”
The city could apply for an Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program (ATRIP) grant. The state law allows these grants for any improvement needed to highway and railroad crossings.
According to Alabama’s Department of Transportation website, http://www.dot.state.al.us, ATRIP can fund up to 80 percent of highway and railway improvement projects, with the remaining being contributed by the local entity, like a city or county.
Also according to the website, environmental permitting, engineering, and design costs all fall on the local entity. In this particular case, the City of Fort Payne.
“The local sponsor is responsible for all surveying, design, environmental analysis, and right-of-way acquisition costs,” according to the state.
Private industries can pay part of the 20 percent, if they desire to help the city construct an overpass near their business, and they believe it to be mutually beneficial.
And with the tracks crossing between several manufacturing plants and the highway in town, it would be beneficial to these companies to contribute towards that 20 percent for the project to help with truck traffic leaving their facilities.
Long story short, a meeting with a private railroad company, even if it were scheduled to try and address the problem and not a standard safety meeting, would produce no result in fixing a traffic problem. Addressing these problems in Fort Payne can only be started at the local level.
When it comes to railway crossings, the railroad company has the right-of-way; not the city government.
If a problem needs fixing, it must start here at home.