Birmingham, Trussville + Norfolk Southern team up to eliminate train blockages burdening city

Train, Birmingham
A troublesome locomotive blocking a crossing in Birmingham. (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

As reported by Bham Now, trains blocking the railroad crossings in Birmingham and Trussville have become a chronic problem. Luckily, help is on the way thanks to the Birmingham City Council and regional cooperation between the City of Trussville and Norfolk Southern.

Today, the City of Birmingham committed to providing a local match for a $10M Railroad Crossing Elimination (RCE) planning grant. Norfolk Southern and Trussville are also expected to help the local match. This federal program is aimed at mitigating train crossing issues in and around the country and in cities like Birmingham and Trussville.

The Chronic Problem

Train, Birmingham
A train blocking the 41st Street Railroad Crossing in Birmingham. (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

If you live in Birmingham or surrounding areas—such as Avondale, Irondale, West Birmingham, Woodlawn or Trussville—you’re no stranger to trains. 

Typically, trains go about their business, chugging along the tracks on their designated routes. However, you may have noticed some trains have parked on the tracks, blocking major intersections and neighborhoods for extended periods of time—sometimes days. 

The result? Major traffic congestion, supply chain issues, safety hazards and enraged drivers behind the wheel. 

“It’s a safety issue. It’s a traffic issue. It’s an economic development issue with businesses that if a train stops, people just can’t get to them. So all of those things combined, this will be a win for the City of Trussville and a win for the City of Birmingham, and doing it together is going to be huge.”

Lisa Bright, Trussville City Council Member

Busiest rail line in the Southeast

(Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

According to Councilor Darrell O’Quinn, one of the biggest supporters of the grant proposal, Birmingham has some of the busiest rail lines in the Southeastern United States.

“Because we don’t have a robust rail infrastructure throughout the state of Alabama, trains that are trying to traverse the City of Birmingham and surrounding municipalities often end up having to park and block rail crossings.”

Darrell O’Quinn, Birmingham City Councilor, District 5

Why hasn’t anything been done about this? 

According to O’Quinn, despite the fact that there are laws on the books saying that these railroad companies can’t block crossings, the city and state have no authority to regulate how rails companies operate due to the Interstate Commerce Clause.

How the project came to be

A Norfolk Southern train. (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

To implement a plan, the Cities of Birmingham and Trussville joined together with Norfolk Southern.

If you lived in Trussville—or tried to pass through it—in December 2021, you were likely stopped by a train that sat stagnant on the tracks for what felt like an eternity.

“[The] train sat and blocked our main thoroughfare for 10 days. During Christmas! It was a nightmare. That really got us started on trying to develop relationships with Norfolk Southern, and I will say that they have been extremely willing to participate in getting the problems solved.”

Lisa Bright, Trussville City Council Member

The Grant

Through the $10M RCE planning and engineering grant approved by the Birmingham City Council, the project’s initial phases of planning and engineering can begin. 

  • The project will seek to develop highway-rail and pathway-rail grade crossing improvements that focus on improving the safety and mobility of people, goods and services.
  • Of the $10M grant, the project will look at ways to construct overpasses + underpasses in the area of Norris Yard.
  • The planning grant will likely make way for a total of $150M in infrastructure work needed to solve the crises.

Who will the project help?

Train, Birmingham
A train crossing a 41st Street railroad crossing in Birmingham. (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)
  • The project will eliminate train horn noise for the South Woodlawn area enabling the construction of affordable housing.
  • The project will seek to mitigate problems with train crossings region-wide from Trussville to Western parts of Birmingham.

“Truth be told, there’s a great deal of rail infrastructure improvement that needs to happen throughout the entire state of Alabama. This is just one small piece of what needs to be done regionally. The rail cars that pass through Birmingham are a critical piece of the global supply chain. There are billions of dollars of commerce that happen annually that relies on the rail corridor in and around Birmingham.”

Darrell O’Quinn, Birmingham City Councilor, District 5

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Patience Itson
Patience Itson
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