TRAIN WRECK

This 2014 wreck at the Indian Springs Drive crossing led to a lawsuit. The DOT has now ordered the crossing closed. (File photo)

The GDOT ordered Forsyth last week to close the railroad crossing at Indian Springs Drive despite city council’s efforts to keep it open. After the city heard from citizens who wanted the crossing to stay open, it denied Norfolk Southern’s petition to close the crossing on Feb. 5. But Norfolk Southern appealed to GDOT. 

GDOT evaluated the crossing and “determines that it is reasonably necessary to eliminate the crossing in the interest of public safety and hereby orders the closure and the physical removal of the crossing permanently.”

There were three train wrecks at the crossing in 2013-14, leading to several injuries and at least one lawsuit.

Nearby Bryant’s Collision had asked the city to keep the crossing open because many of its customers access the business that way.

Told on Monday that the DOT was closing the crossing anyway, co-owner Bridget Bryant said they’ll survive.

“We’ll be fine,” said Bryant. “I think we’re established enough in the community that we’ll be fine.”

Bryant said many people say the crossing is a shortcut for them, but many of those same people did not attend meetings to voice their concerns. 

Bryant said their business will do fine, but said it will be awfully inconvenient for traffic, especially when the Christmas parade comes or when the train conductor decides to stop at Taco Bell for lunch again.

Wilson said the city is investigating whether it has exhausted all appeal options on the closing. He said the city is required to post signs notifying of the closing within two weeks of receipt of the letter from GDOT, and the date of closing will be 30 days after the signs are posted. The signs will include the actual date of closing. 

Numerous citizens spoke at a public hearing on Jan. 22, and at earlier public hearings, asking that the crossing remain open. They cited access for public safety vehicles, relief of traffic congestion and convenience as reasons for keeping the four remaining railroad crossings in the city open. The owners of Bryant’s Collision, which is located at the crossing, talked about the adverse effects on their business and the lack of safety concerns that merit closing the crossing. They noted ways the crossing can be made safer without closing it.

Norfolk Southern and GDOT initially came to Forsyth offering about $1 million in funds to improve the crossings at Lee Street and Tift College Drive if the city would agree to close the crossings at Main Street and Indian Springs Drive. After citizens and council members objected to closing the two crossings, noting that once the railroad closes a crossing there is virtually no opportunity to re-open it or get a new crossing, Norfolk Southern and GDOT returned with an offer of less money for improvements at the remaining crossings in return for closing only the Indian Springs Drive crossing and leaving Main Street open. The Main Street crossing has the least traffic of the four crossings but also has the least safety issues. The most accidents have occurred at the Tift College Drive crossing.

In declining to close the Indian Springs Drive crossing, the city forfeited the money offered by GDOT to respond to what citizens wanted. In a letter to Norfolk Southern on Feb. 5 Forsyth said the crossing should stay open because closing it “is not reasonably necessary in the interest of public safety.”

D.M. Bearse of Moreland Altobelli Associates, LLC evaluated the Indian Springs Drive crossing for GDOT and signed off on an evaluation dated May 14 that said it had enough risk factors to close it. The evaluation did not address how risk factors could be corrected without closing the crossing. The evaluation says that five trains traveling approximately 40 mph travel the track daily. It is .5 miles along the track to an alternate crossing. There has been one vehicle/train crash at the crossing (June 19, 2014), which led to a lawsuit. There are crossbucks as a warning device at the crossing. (This is a positive for the crossing.) 

The traffic count from May 2008 and Sept. 2019 shows an average of 1,259 vehicles per day using the crossing for a city population of 4,125. The posted speed limit is 30 mph, with 25 mph assumed for adjacent streets and Indian Springs crossover characteristics. There was an adjustment factor for the inconvenience closing the crossing would cause to medical, government and commerce facilities. The evaluation says vehicles for hire and school buses do not use the crossing, and the Lee Street crossing is a safe alternate for Haz Mat vehicles. It says there will be no inconvenience for emergency vehicles or vehicles owned by utility companies in closing the crossing. 

GDOT says that if a crossing scores over 5 in an evaluation, it merits closing. Bearse’s evaluation scored the Indian Springs Drive crossing 11.3. Of that number, 8.5 came from the final category, “GDOT Defined Variables.” It gave the crossing 4 for insufficient clearing sight distance for some vehicles, 4 for “traversing the crossing,’ 4 for high profile/humped crossing, .5 for a crossing with safety features within a half mile and 1.5 for a grade separated crossing within a quarter mile measured by the rail. It subtracted 8 for land locked property. 

The letter from GDOT State Railroad Crossing Engineer Kevin Cowan, who attended the public hearings in Forsyth, says the city is responsible, at its expense, for advertising the closure and posting “Dead End” signs on both sides of the crossing and that Norfolk Southern will, at its expense, remove the crossing surface from the track and erect barricades of stop vehicles from crossing.