Two trains that departed around the same time from their yards were the cause of the gridlock in Columbia that nearly paralyzed traffic around several neighborhoods for more than hour.
Tracks from CSX and Norfolk Southern cross over each other in Columbia, officials said. And on Wednesday, trains from each company met each other in the middle of morning rush hour, snarling traffic for commuters.
Usually trains are schedule to leave at separate times, said Susan Terpay, spokeswoman for Norfolk Southern. But that was not the case on Wednesday.
“This situation was unusual, and we are working to make sure that it does not occur again,” Terpay said. “Norfolk Southern apologizes to the community for the delays and will work to avoid inconveniences in the future.”
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CSX spokesman Rob Doolittle echoed Norfolk Southern’s apology, stressing the company is working to improve communication to prevent the congestion from happening again.
“CSX is proud of our history in Columbia and we’re proud to support the local and regional businesses who depend on freight rail,” Doolittle said. “We look forward to continuing discussions with city and state leaders about how we can work together to support the safe and efficient flow of freight rail in Columbia.”
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin expressed frustration with the issue to The State in an interview on Wednesday. The city plans to meet with folks from those two freight lines, which have hubs in Columbia, and state transportation officials in December, he said.
“Trains are seeing a bit of renaissance, and I’m sure it’s good for the companies and good for the country,” Benjamin said. “But those companies need to be a lot more sensitive to the needs of cities trying to move people and products.”
The city and the state both have laws limiting the amount of time trains can block street traffic. But those laws have no teeth and are rarely, if ever, enforced.