What could happen in the case of a collision is what has city officials and Norfolk Southern especially worried, and Girdler said those fears are compounded after a derailment in Jefferson County recently resulted in the evacuation of hundreds of residents in that area for several days.
“It’s a serious problem that we’re dealing with,” Girdler said.
City officials and Norfolk Southern have discussed keeping a pedestrian crosswalk open on the crossing, since many people in the area make the trek by foot to businesses located on U.S. 27.
Councilors did have reservations about how the closure would affect foot traffic in the area. Many residents in the West Columbia Street area walk across the tracks at the crossing to access the stores and restaurants on U.S. 27.
Girdler said that area — U.S. 27 and those residences around the railroad — would be negatively impacted in the event of a collision or derailment.
“Due to the dangerous situation and the jobs involved and U.S. 27 ... we would have to shut down everything (if a train derailed),” Girdler said.
Pedestrians would have to watch for trains closely, as the crossing’s signals wouldn’t be at the crossing should vehicle traffic be shut down.
Miller said during the public meeting that a Department of Transportation traffic study on the crossing from 1994 stated that an average of 700 vehicles cross the track there daily. That number, Miller said, is no doubt a low one since Somerset has grown in the 18 years since the study was done.
Councilor Jerry Wheeldon said during the meeting he spoke to several residents in the West Columbia Street area about the closing and that they seemed mostly in favor of closing the crossing to vehicles. Girdler said on Friday that he hadn’t heard any negative feedback on the closing.