Rail summit needed

Published 12:34 am Sunday, October 7, 2012

In the wake of a deadly train/tractor-trailer accident on Thursday came the announcement that Amtrak will begin training conductors, engineers and other crew on its passenger rail routes this month.

The accident had nothing to do with Amtrak or its rail service, and the circumstances of the wreck, which killed the driver of a tractor-trailer that was struck by a train near the U.S. Route 58 on-ramp from downtown Suffolk, haven’t yet been made public.

But it underscores the importance of effective communication among rail companies, municipal governments and the general public. Coupled with the announcement that more trains will begin running because of Amtrak’s need to train its employees on the new service, it’s high time for an educational summit.

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In the past, various issues that involved citizens and railroads have essentially been mediated by the city, with varying levels of success. A greater level of public education could be achieved by direct communication among all parties.

Though the railroads have multiple benefits for commerce, they also present a number of challenges. Traffic backs up along main roadways as trains seemingly inch along on their way east or west. Ambulances try in vain to reach critical patients just on the other side of the tracks. Residents who live near the tracks awake at all hours of the night when the train blows its horn.

All of these issues impact residents’ quality of life. One resident in the Olde Mill Creek neighborhood recently moved out of the city because she could no longer handle the noise in the middle of the night, and her attempts to get the area designated a quiet zone were unsuccessful.

City government and the rail companies that own tracks crisscrossing the city should partner for an event that invites residents, motorists, business owners and others with an interest to engage in communication with the rail companies. Undoubtedly, all sides could learn from each other and learn to live together in this city laced with railroad tracks.