At least 45 people have been hit by a train on the Coast this year — either in a vehicle or while walking — including four people killed in the Biloxi bus crash.
On Tuesday, drivers were handed a card full of safety tips at some of the dangerous railroad crossings in South Mississippi, while officials wait to hear whether CSX Railroad will pay to fix some of the crossings in Biloxi.
This week, Sept. 24-30, is U.S. Rail Safety Week. Operation Clear Track, an awareness campaign by Mississippi Operation Lifesaver, was scheduled for three hours in Bay St. Louis, Biloxi, Gulfport and Pascagoula and across the country. It is the largest simultaneous railroad law enforcement operation ever held in the U.S., and comes six months after a tour bus, stuck on the railroad tracks at Main Street in Biloxi, was struck by a train and four people died.
The city immediately hung signs at Main Street and other crossings with low ground clearance after the March 7 accident. Vincent Creel, public relations director for the city, said Mississippi Department of Transportation now has supplied larger signs that will be installed.
At the request of the city, Harrison County Board of Supervisors on Aug. 14 sent a letter notifying CSX that deficiencies exist at the 29 railroad crossings in the city. The letter states that under state statue, CSX is responsible for remediation of the approaches at the crossings. The letter also pointed out that the Mississippi Attorney General determined that cities can’t assume the responsibility or costs for improvement that the law says are the responsibility of the railroad.
The county gave CSX 60 days — until Oct. 14 — to indicate whether it will pay for the work to correct the roadway approaches.
Of those 29 railroad crossings in Biloxi, 21 of them are on a 2.5-mile stretch between White Avenue near the current entrance of Keesler Air Force Base, east to Oak Street at Point Cadet. Biloxi has agreed to close six of the crossings to improve safety.
Biloxi police on Tuesday were handing out safety cards to motorists crossing the railroad at Iroquois and Nixon streets, two places with only stop signs instead of railroad crossing arms. Both are among those scheduled to be closed.
Patrolman Steve Stafford was stationed at the Iroquois crossing handing out cards to drivers and said, “They’ve been very appreciative of it.” At that crossing and several others in the city, the “hump” of the railroad crossing makes it impossible for motorists to see oncoming traffic.
Under the proposal to close some of the crossings, CSX and MDOT would help Biloxi build new access streets, where needed, to avoid dead-end streets.
CSX has told the city that three crossings would have to close for each of the two new ones proposed, one at the Popp’s Ferry Extension in West Biloxi, and one on the proposed East Biloxi traffic loop.
Railroad crossing safety tips
▪ Never drive or walk around lowered grade crossing gates.
▪ Never attempt to outrun an approaching train.
▪ Never stop your vehicle on a grade crossing while waiting for traffic to move.
▪ Never begin to drive across the tracks unless you can get all the way across.
▪ Remember it can take a train a mile or more to stop.
▪ ▪ Don’t walk, run, play or take pictures on a railroad right-of-way, which is private property.
▪ Call the Emergency Notification System 24 hours a day at 800-232-0144 to report an emergency. The number is on a blue sign near the crossing.