Train blocks flood-ravaged neighborhood, main thoroughfare for 2 hours

Train blocks flood-ravaged neighborhood, main thoroughfare for 2 hours
Traffic backs up on Bush River Road due to the stopped train. (Source: WIS)
Traffic backs up on Bush River Road due to the stopped train. (Source: WIS)
A damaged home in the Pine Glen subdivision. (Source: WIS)
A damaged home in the Pine Glen subdivision. (Source: WIS)
Emergency crews block the Seawright Road crossing in October while evacuations take place because of the flooding. (Source: WIS)
Emergency crews block the Seawright Road crossing in October while evacuations take place because of the flooding. (Source: WIS)

LEXINGTON COUNTY, SC (WIS) - If a 1,000 year flood wasn't enough, the residents of the Pine Glen subdivision in Irmo appeared to receive another slap in the face Wednesday night when the crew of a freight train stopped on the rail line that crosses the only road in or out of the neighborhood.

It was about 4:55 p.m. when Joe Stemba, fresh off of a pizza run, attempted to return to his Cairnbrook Drive home when he came to a stop. It was a sight he had seen at the Seawright Road crossing many times, but not quite like this. He had witnessed many trains move through the area "at a pretty good clip," but this encounter was different -- the train was not moving.

Dozens of unhappy people were blocked from coming or going.

"I called the emergency number for CSX and the young lady said they had to stop for crew rest," Stemba said while raising his voice to drown out the incessant rail crossing alarm that had been blaring for more than an hour and a half. "They gave us an hour to a 90 minute ETA...that's come and gone. It's just frustrating."

"That gets me...I've flown long distances before. I know the FAA has the same type of rules, but when those guys fly if they know it's going to take longer, they pack an extra crew, they got extra pilots and stuff," Stemba said. "So, why can't a freight line as big as CSX do the same?"

CSX operates and maintains almost 1,800 miles of track and maintains more than 1,700 public and private railroad crossings in South Carolina. The track and crossing near the Pine Glen neighborhood are owned by CSX. WIS has not been able to independently confirm if the train that stopped was being operated by CSX or another company.

The procession of train cars stretched from before the blockage at Pine Glen across St. Andrews Road almost to Piney Grove Road. Motorists heading home after a day's work were forced to find a way around the traffic mess.

Others were trapped in the neighborhood, a place where nearly 90 people and 40 pets had to be rescued by boat on October 4 as the swelled Saluda River backed up tributaries in early October.

"It's been horrible," Estelle Scott Goodsen said as she yelled to a WIS photographer from the other side of the train. "Being blocked back here like this just after the flood. We've been flooded out and now we're stuck behind the train.

Goodsen had been working at her damaged house on Wednesday, Her home was one of dozens that sustained major flood damage during the flooding. "I don't have a home to sleep, no bed, I have to wait to get out."

The blocked crossing gave Goodsen more immediate concerns. "I'm afraid that someone will get sick back here and the ambulance can't get to them," she said.

Rose Johnson had to have a neighbor take care of her dog. "Because I couldn't get to her to let her out of the house," she said.

She, like Goodsen, also worries about emergencies. "There's a lot of people stuck inside and there's elderly back there. If there was an emergency right now, I don't think they could do much."

At about 6:55 p.m., more than two hours after the train stopped, it began its journey again. Five minutes later the train cleared the crossing and life, for those who live in Pine Glen, returned to the normalcy they have come to tolerate after the devastation the rising Saluda River brought.

The inconvenience, however, isn't water under the bridge for many.

Stemba believes the company should plan its crew rest or crew changes better in the future. "Maybe update their regulations and rules to make sure that if they know a crew is about to come down, maybe stop somewhere like alongside 26 where there are no crossings...or, if necessary, halt outside of city limits."

This is not the first time residents there had to deal with rail crossing issues. In 2012, a CSX repair project blocked the neighborhood for the better part of an entire day.

Lexington County leaders looked into building another access road to the neighborhood, but there were concerns about nearby wetlands.

State law allows for fines to a railroad operator between $5 and $20 for unnecessarily blocking a public road for five minutes or more.

If any person, including any conductor of any train of railroad cars or any other agent or servant of any railroad company, shall obstruct unnecessarily any public road or highway by permitting any railroad car or locomotive to be or remain upon or across any street, public road or highway for a longer period than five minutes, after notice to remove such cars has been given to the conductor, engineer, agent or other such person in charge of such train ... Every twenty-four hours such person, after being notified, shall suffer such obstructions to the hindrance or inconvenience of travelers or any person going along or upon such road or highway to continue shall be deemed an additional offense against the provisions of this section. 

- S.C. Code Ann. § 58-17-4080

It is unclear if the train operator or anybody representing the company was given notice to move the train on Wednesday evening. A Lexington County Sheriff's Department spokesperson said the agency did not receive any calls about the blocked crossings.

An online search of public court records in Lexington and Richland counties does not show an instance where a train operator has had to pay a fine for unnecessarily blocking a roadway.

A CSX media relations representative wrote in an emailed response to our questions on Thursday afternoon that she would look into it and get back to us. On Friday, she said the company's operations team was still looking into the blockage.

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