Crossing speeds to increase

Published 9:27 pm Monday, December 22, 2008

Norfolk Southern Railway announced Monday it would increase train speeds at three railroad crossings in Selma.

Selma Fire Chief Henry Allen said he met with an official from Norfolk Southern about a month ago to discuss the increase in speed from 20 mph to 25 mph.

“Selma being a railroad town, it means you’re getting the freight on out of here,” Allen said. “So increasing the speed is not going to create a problem for Selma. It will help Selma because it takes delays out.”

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Norfolk Southern Railway, a subsidiary of Norfolk Southern Corporation, announced the speed increase for three highway-rail grade crossings in Selma — Church Street, Union Street and Lapsley Street. The change will take effect Saturday.

A highway-rail grade crossing is an intersection where a roadway crosses railroad tracks at the same level or grade.

Norfolk Southern operates about eight trains daily through Selma.

The company will also increase train speeds from 30 mph to 49 mph at three crossings in Maplesville. It will increase speeds at varying rates for 12 crossings in Tuscaloosa.

The company has adjusted the crossing warning devices at these locations to properly activate when the faster-moving trains are approaching, according to a release Norfolk Southern issued Monday. The measure is expected to improve public traffic flow and grade crossing safety by moving trains in and out of the area faster.

Police response should also increase with the change in speed limit.

“Those long trains go straight through the heart of Selma, and it backs up things — especially when we try to respond to things,” Selma Police Chief William T. Riley III said. “It should help us out a little bit more there as far as us being able to respond across the tracks when things are going on. My main focus is doing it in a safe manner for the public. But right now that 5 mph increase should not cause us any great problems.”

Meridian & Bigbee Railroad, owned by Genesee and Wyoming Inc., operates another line in Selma. Its trains run 10 mph in Selma and 5 mph over the Alabama River bridge crossing.

M&B Selma office manager Willie Noble said the company just received new operating orders from headquarters Monday morning.

“There’s nothing in there that states the speed is going to increase more than what it is right now,” Noble said.

Short-line railroads like M&B, called Class III railroads by the Federal Railroad Administration, typically travel at slower speeds than larger railroads.

Norfolk Southern is a Class I line.

“Our main line speed is not but 25 mph,” Noble said. “Their main line speed, I think, is something like 49 or above.”