Brunswick mayor calls for railroad changes after train crash

·4 min read

Aug. 5—Brunswick Mayor Nathan Brown said a blockage from a CSX train created a traffic backup that led to an Amtrak train hitting a tractor-trailer Wednesday.

Brown sent a letter to CSX Transportation leadership Thursday, pushing for action on what he described as an ongoing hazard in the city with trains and vehicle traffic.

He shared hundreds of complaints people have lodged about trains sitting for hours, causing motorists and pedestrians to be stuck, sometimes in hot weather.

One complainant reported people crawling under a sitting train to get by. One considered passing an upset, hungry baby through trains, from a parent on one side of the tracks to a parent on the other side.

In the letter, Brown wrote that before Wednesday's Amtrak train crash, the south train tracks at South Maple Avenue were blocked for two hours by a CSX train sitting on the tracks.

The blockage created significant traffic that didn't clear up in time for a tractor-trailer hauling lumber to move out of the railroad crossing area, with an Amtrak train approaching, the letter says.

The Amtrak train hit the trailer part of the tractor-trailer.

The tractor-trailer was pushed into a passenger truck, which then hit the train station.

The driver of the passenger truck was taken to a hospital with injuries not considered life-threatening. A passenger in that truck, the tractor-trailer driver and roughly 140 passengers on the Amtrak train were not injured.

Brown wrote in his letter that CSX, a freight railroad corporation, couldn't ignore the fact the train staying idle and blocking the street was a "significant contributing factor" to the crash.

The city shared Brown's letter on its Facebook page.

Asked for a response on Thursday afternoon, CSX spokeswoman Cindy Schild wrote in an email to the News-Post that James Foote, the CEO and president of CSX, is reviewing the letter and CSX's operations in the area to determine possible improvements.

Schild also wrote that CSX is keeping an open line of communication with Brown, the Maryland Department of Transportation and other agencies.

Schild deferred to Amtrak when asked about the crash.

A message left late Thursday afternoon with Amtrak's media relations office in Wilmington, Delaware, was not immediately returned.

Brown mentioned in his letter that Brunswick has worked with CSX and agencies such as MDOT since October 2021 to try to solve the issue of train blockages affecting safety and vehicle traffic.

CSX has significant rail yard operations in Brunswick's downtown, a document from October 2021 attached to the letter said.

Part of that yard is a railroad track that cuts through South Maple Avenue, separating the city and the Brunswick Family Campground. South Maple Avenue is the only road that connects the two sides.

The campground attracts more than 20,000 people a year, the document said.

The rail crossing has caused safety concerns for many years, the document said, with constant blockages and delays.

If someone on one side of the tracks needs emergency medical service, they could get delayed by a train blocking the South Maple Avenue corridor, the document said.

" ...[S]trong and decisive action should be taken now to protect safety until long term solutions can be identified," Brown wrote in his letter. "As I am sure you will agree, we do not want injury or loss of life to occur before solutions can be identified."

Also attached to the letter was a spreadsheet of complaints since May 2021. There were around 200 complaints of track blockages, some lasting up to two hours.

One report said adults and children were crawling under the train to get past it during a blockage that lasted more than 40 minutes.

"The train sat idle for long periods of time, backed up, and then sat idle again," another complaint said. This complaint reported the train blocked the street for more than 30 minutes.

Many described people being stuck in high temperatures without food or water for hours as they wait for a train to leave. Others described being late to work because of blockages and expressed safety concerns.

Another complaint described a baby screaming for more than two hours in its mother's arms with no formula, while a train blocked the street for more than three hours.

"They were about to pass the baby through the trains to the dad so it could eat," the complaint said.

While the city celebrates its railroad operations, Brown said, these are problems to address.

"Unfortunately, the challenge of blocked crossings still exists and continues to be a growing safety hazard to Brunswick and the surrounding communities," he wrote.

Follow Clara Niel on Twitter: @clarasniel