The West Columbia Street railroad crossing — a popular but hazardous shortcut for motorists in the downtown Somerset area — will officially be closed in early 2013.
“That crossing down there is probably one of the most used crossings in the city,” said Somerset City Councilor Jerry Wheeldon, whose district includes the area around the crossing.
A resolution to close the crossing to all vehicle traffic by around February 15, 2013 was passed in a 11-1 vote during Monday’s Somerset City Council meeting.
City officials were approached by officials with Norfolk Southern Railroad and the Kentucky Department of Transportation in the fall about the possible dangers of the West Columbia crossing. Those officials said the sheer number of tractor trailer trucks that become hung up on the crossing — due to the steep grade of the crossing — poses a serious safety issue. A collision between a train and a large truck could lead to a derailment.
A tractor trailer reportedly got stuck over the crossing on Friday. Norfolk Southern officials have said as many as 50 to 60 trains travel through the West Columbia crossing daily.
Those sentiments were brought up again just a few weeks ago after an October train derailment in Jefferson County led to the evacuation of a residential area located within a one-mile radius of the derailment site.
During Monday’s meeting, Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler said a derailment could lead to an evacuation of businesses located along U.S. 27 — and even Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital.
“In our case, because of its proximity to U.S. 27 and the hospital, it presents a special problem,” Girdler said on Monday.
The crossing is considered one of the most dangerous on Norfolk Southern’s 20,000-mile railway system, and Girdler emphasized that during Monday’s meeting.
City Councilor Mark Beasley, who attended his last city council meeting as a councilor on Monday, asked that the city include in the resolution that the crossing stay open to pedestrian traffic, and that the resolution contain a clause stating the city can revisit the crossing in the future if other solutions besides closing it down become available.