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Sick of Columbia trains? Let's talk about it. No, really — this is your chance

Trains in Columbia making too much noise?

For decades, Columbians have fallen asleep, abruptly awoken, halted mid-conversation and plugged their ears to the sound of CSX and Norfolk Southern train horns at all hours of the day and night. The city is assembling an 11-person committee to co
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For decades, Columbians have fallen asleep, abruptly awoken, halted mid-conversation and plugged their ears to the sound of CSX and Norfolk Southern train horns at all hours of the day and night. The city is assembling an 11-person committee to co

Frustrated by Columbia trains? Want to talk about it — not just complain about it on Twitter while you're stuck behind a train?

The S.C. Department of Transportation wants to know what you think about the trains and railroads running through downtown Columbia. A public meeting on June 5 could be one of the first steps toward an eventual solution to downtown's frequent train traffic tie-ups.

Vehicles in the Assembly Street corridor, from Blossom Street to beyond Rosewood Drive, frequently come to a halt when trains from CSX and Norfolk Southern cross, and often stop on, railroad tracks that sit on the major downtown thoroughfares.

In the past year or so, Columbia residents and leaders have begun to reckon with the downtown train issue:

A quiet zone committee has formed to explore muzzling train whistles as they approach crossings. While it could be years before the needed money and infrastructure are in place, the process is in the works.

An hour-plus-long traffic jam last fall drew the ire of commuters and Mayor Steve Benjamin.

City and state officials have met with CSX and Norfolk Southern railway officials to discuss the city's train issues, Benjamin said.

And earlier this year, Benjamin raised the possibility of hiking taxes to help fund a train fix.

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Now, there's no actual money set aside yet for any potential railroad construction projects.

The city is seeking state and federal funding options, city engineer Dana Higgins said. But the last proposed solution, which included lifting railroad tracks to a bridge over the roadway and rerouting some tracks, was estimated to cost more than $100 million.

"That's pretty significant," Higgins said.

For any future construction projects to hit the ground, the state transportation department has to complete an environmental study. That's what it's working on now — starting with a public meeting — hoping to get ahead of any future projects.

"The hope would be by the time we finish (the environmental study process), additional funding will have been found" for construction, said Jennifer Necker, a program manager for SCDOT.

At the upcoming SCDOT forum, from 5-7 p.m. June 5 at Seawell's on Rosewood Drive, transportation officials will gather information from residents about problems they face traveling in the Assembly Street corridor and solutions they might hope to see. There also is an online public opinion survey accessible now at www.assemblystreetrailproject.com.

That information will help officials begin to develop options for improving train and vehicle traffic along the Assembly Street corridor.

"Everything is open, all options," Necker said.

This process won't be the first time solutions have been proposed for downtown train traffic.

Through the years, officials have suggested multiple fixes that include consolidating and rerouting some Norfolk Southern and CSX railroads and lowering or raising some tracks above or below the roadway. But then, as now, money has been a barrier.

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