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CSX trains causing delays at Plymouth crossings again

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

CSX freight cars have blocked highway-rail crossings in Plymouth at increasingly frequent intervals in the last two weeks, prompting complaints from city officials and residents about safety.

A train blocked a crossing in Plymouth for nine hours on Monday, starting around 5 a.m., leading to nightmare backups for first-responders, commuters and school buses that struggled to route around the blocked roadways.

“People understand a five- to seven-minute train issue. It’s Plymouth, and we understand there’s trains,” said City Manager Paul Sincock in Plymouth, a two-square-mile town crisscrossed by tracks.

“When it’s beyond that, it becomes not acceptable.”

The city has no authority to force the railroad company to change its operations, so it refers callers and other complainants to the Federal Railroad Administration and federal lawmakers, Sincock said.

U.S. Rep. Dave Trott, R-Birmingham, wrote to CSX on Wednesday demanding the company address the “unexplained and increasingly frequent delays” disrupting daily life in Plymouth, which has seven highway-rail crossings. His office is also hearing from citizens in Northville and Canton.

Trott said residents have been stuck for hours with infants in their vehicles, students and staff are arriving late for school, and emergency officials are resorting to contingency plans in case they need to respond to an incident on the other side of a blocked roadway.

“It is with regret that these blocked railroads have now become an annual event, with still no sufficient explanations as to why they are commonplace and how they can be prevented,” Trott wrote to CSX President and CEO E. Hunter Harrison.

“It is my sincere hope that you appreciate the significant safety threat that citizens of Plymouth have been unfairly subjected to.”

Trott’s office says it was told by CSX’s federal relations team that the delays in Plymouth would cease by week’s end.

The company offered an apology Wednesday in a statement from Rob Doolittle, assistant vice president for media and communications.

“CSX apologizes to the residents of Plymouth for the impacts caused by trains that have blocked crossings in the city. We understand the frustration of local residents and drivers, and we are taking this matter very seriously,” Doolittle said.

“We are reviewing our options to reduce the impact of our operations, and CSX appreciates the community’s patience as we work through this issue and strive to be better neighbors to the residents of Plymouth.”

It’s unclear what caused Monday’s nine-hour delay. A company spokeswoman said Wednesday she did not have that level of information available.

CSX on Monday initially told Sincock that the train’s crew had timed out, meaning employees hit their maximum number of work hours permitted in a set time period under federal regulations and were awaiting a relief crew. CSX later told the city that the train had broken down, the city manager said.

It’s not the first time Plymouth has had trains blocking their roadways for extended periods. The town went through a similar episode with CSX for about a month in April 2016, Sincock said.

At that time, the railroad had changed the way it sent trains from Toledo, Ohio, north to Michigan, where crews would decouple a train in Plymouth and wait for an engine to arrive from Lansing, Sincock said.

The city thought the issue had been resolved after a meeting with CSX last year, he said.

“They are not being very good corporate partners when they do this. It’s a public safety problem for us. It’s a quality of life problem for us,” Sincock said.

“We know there’s trains, but we have to establish a reasonableness factor.”

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