January 15, 2014

Railroad crossings could be closed in Whitfield

Charles Oliver

— Transportation officials plan to close five railroad crossings in the southern part of Whitfield County, and they are looking for the public’s input.

Officials will hold an open house on Thursday, Jan. 30, from 4 to 7 p.m. in the Valley Point Middle School gymnasium. The current plan calls for the crossings at Midway Road, Baker Road, Henry Owens Road, Postelle Road and Redwine Cove Road to be closed. In the crossings’ place, an access road parallel to the railroad would link those roads with two new, improved crossings. Working with Gordon County, Midway Road would be moved about 500 feet south to improve that crossing. That new crossing would include a signal, according to a press release from Whitfield County.

“These five crossings currently don’t have any signals, and they have either poor approaches or visibility,” said Whitfield County Board of Commissioners Chairman Mike Babb. “We want to make sure we get our drivers to signaled crossings.”

The closings are part of an effort by Norfolk Southern railroad to improve safety along its line.

“This is a fairly major project that has been in the works since around 2011 working with Whitfield County and the Georgia Department of Transportation,” said Richard W. Harris, corporate communications director for Norfolk Southern.

“We typically take a corridor approach in improvements. In this case, it’s a two-county corridor consisting of Whitfield and Gordon counties,” Harris said. “It is perhaps the biggest project we currently have with the state.”

Harris said the Atlanta-to-Chattanooga line is one of Norfolk Southern’s busiest lines and traffic on that line and across the eastern United States is expected to climb in coming years as widening of the Panama Canal leads to increased activity at eastern ports, including the Port of Savannah.

“Any improvements we can make to this corridor are going to improve public safety as well as improve rail traffic,” he said.

Harris said the open house will be just the first step in the process of improving that segment of the railroad.

“There has been a lot of planning that has taken place, but there’s still a quite a bit of work to do. Environmental studies and things like that still have to take place, so this is going to be a multi-year process,” he said.