Motorists headed to solar eclipse viewing events across the Columbia area on Monday may face an all-too-familiar menace to smooth-flowing traffic: trains.
CSX and Norfolk Southern – the major rail carriers in the area – won’t halt trains to accommodate the extra traffic expected during the event, officials at both railroads said.
It’s impossible to say if a train will travel through the area immediately before, during or after the eclipse, which is forecast to peak at 2:41 p.m., officials said.
Last-minute shipping adjustments and unexpected delays make it difficult to say precisely when a train will pass on a specific part of a route, they said.
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Several major viewing areas are near rail lines, including the State Fairgrounds, the University of South Carolina campus and the Lake Murray dam.
Modifying operations for the eclipse would create significant backups in delivering freight because the event will happen in six of the states where many CSX trains run, company spokesman Rob Doolittle said.
“Disrupting those operations for any period of time would result in significant economic impacts and logistical challenges for shippers and consumers alike,” he said.
Norfolk Southern will operate “as usual” for the same reason, spokeswoman Susan Terpay said.
Tourism officials are predicting thousands of visitors will come to the Columbia area. Some predictions suggest the area’s population of about 700,000 could double that day.
Those estimates stem from the area having one of the longest periods of total eclipse on the East Coast. The total eclipse is expected to last about 2 minutes and 30 seconds across the Midlands.
Columbia City Councilman Howard Duvall is urging railroads to recognize the traffic congestion expected.
It should be beneficial to make changes reducing bottlenecks on the roads, particularly as crowds assemble and depart events, he said.
“I hope they can help us a little bit,” Duvall said. “Maybe we can work out something for that morning and until events are over.”
But a request for a schedule change is likely to be ignored, one state official said.
Railroads are largely free to run trains as desired because of exemptions from state and local oversight, according to Dukes Scott, executive director of the South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff.
“We don’t have any say-so,” he said. “So getting that would be pretty difficult.”
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483