SCOTTSBORO, Ala. – One serious crash and several near-crashes at a railroad crossing have Scottsboro residents concerned about what they call a “death trap.” The railroad crossing is near the corner of West Mary Hunter Avenue and North Cedar Hill Drive.
“I will never cross that track again because it’s torment to me,” said Martha Ellison.
Ellison told WHNT News 19 she had an incredibly close call with a train one afternoon after picking up her 11-year-old granddaughter from school.
“Every night all the time constantly all I can see is lights in my face. I can hardly sleep for seeing those lights in my face,” said Ellison.
Ellison said the train conductor never blew the horn during her near-crash.
While WHNT News crews were at the intersection, two trains went by. The conductor did blow the horn each time.
However, Amin said that is not usually the case. A video she shared with WHNT News 19 shows her traumatizing encounter. It shows her speeding off the tracks to safety, narrowly missing a collision.
Khalil Amin’s nephew wasn’t so lucky on Valentine’s Day 2020.
“On that particular night of the accident, I did not hear the train blow, I hear the noise, but I didn’t hear blow,” said Amin. Amin’s nephew, Danny, is hospitalized with serious injuries.
Amin can see the railroad crossing from his barber shop.
“How many people are going to get hurt or killed at that crossing before they do something about it,” Amin asked.
The stop sign at West Mary Hunter Avenue and North Cedar Hill Drive is about 20 feet away from the railroad crossing. The view of the tracks is obstructed by a large building to the west of the intersection.
Drivers told WHNT News 19 once they go through the stop sign, they sometimes do not stop again at the tracks to check for a train since there are no signals.
“That Unclaimed Baggage, easy access to the store. More people cross here than at the Broad Street crossing, they got lights and arms that go down, which you can see down the tracks both ways very clear but here you can only see one way. Why didn’t they put some lights down here,” said Amin.
He said he believes there is no signal because it is a mostly African American neighborhood.
He, Ellison, and several others who spoke with WHNT News 19, are calling for change.
“I think they should put some lights or something there to warn people that trains are coming,” said Amin.
Ellison said after her experience she called Norfolk Southern and demanded they reprimand the conductor who did not blow the horn. She also called the city. She said they called her back and said they were going to look into it.
Norfolk Southern released this statement to WHNT News 19:
The Federal Highway Administration defines railroad crossing signals as highway control devices, which are designed to be traffic control devices for motorists. In Alabama, the department of transportation (ALDOT) decides when and where to install active warning devices at railroad crossings. Railroads cannot install crossing signals on their own.
Each state develops a priority list for grade crossing improvements based on factors such as the volume of train and motor vehicle traffic, train speed, and accident history at the crossing. Federal funds pay about 90 percent of the cost of a signal installation, while the city or county pays the other 10 percent. One installed, crossings are maintained by Norfolk Southern.
At Norfolk Southern, the safety of our employees and the communities we serve is our number one priority. Norfolk Southern advises motorists and pedestrians to stay alert around railroad tracks, and never try to beat a train at a crossing.Rachel McDonnell Bradshaw, Norfolk Southern Corporation Manager Media Relations
In response, Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) North Region Public Information Officer Seth Burkett told WHNT News 19:
The state is not responsible for signing railroad crossings on county roads or city streets. For the local governments that are responsible for these crossings to make significant improvements on their own, the improvements could be cost-prohibitive in many cases. So ALDOT administers the state’s apportioned federal funds to improve railroad crossings in a 90/10 split with local governments. This program upgrades about 30 crossings each year, statewide. The cost is about $300K-$350K per crossing for those crossings where we add active devices (gates, lights and bells). Replacement/addition of passive devices such as signs and striping are also included in these projects.
We can’t discuss prioritization of individual rail crossings within the program. Various information, including traffic counts, number of trains, accident history, and sight distances are taken into account.Seth Burkett, Alabama Department of Transportation North Region Public Information Officer