Dangerous RR crossings in Gulfport should close in six months

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - An agreement to shut down eight railroad crossings in Gulfport is sitting on the city attorney's desk. And according to an MDOT rails spokesman, once the agreement is signed, the transportation department and CSX will work together to close those dangerous crossings as quickly as possible.

The danger resurfaced over the weekend, when a train slammed into a car at the Hardy Avenue crossing.

"I don't know what you can do to make people stop," wondered Margaret Moran.

She lives on Ruth Avenue. From her yard, she could see the Hardy Avenue accident.

That crossing happens to be one of the train trouble spots Gulfport city council members voted to close. That vote was in September. Four months later, they're still open.  But at a west Gulfport community meeting on Saturday, residents were told the trouble spots would disappear by this summer.

For almost 50 years, Mrs. Moran has watched from her yard as drivers darted in front of oncoming trains.

"I love to watch the trains. I don't like seeing people try to beat them," she said.

Tire tracks from a Saturday car/train collision remain embedded in the CSX right of way. That driver was from Biloxi. He survived the crash. But as Mrs. Moran has seen too many times from her porch, that's not always the case.

"Somebody's going to think, 'Oh, I can beat the train.' There's always at least that one that feels, 'I've got time,'" she said.

An appraiser was driving up Hardy Avenue Tuesday afternoon. When he stopped at the railroad crossing, he commented that it was time to shut it down.

"I think all of them without the signal lights should be closed up," he thought.

Neither Hardy Avenue nor Ruth Avenue have warning lights, bells or crossing arms. On top of that, those crossings just happen to be a football field apart. Gulfport's plan is to work with CSX and MDOT to close Hardy, Ruth and Woodward Avenue on the west end of the city. Closer to the downtown area, the crossings at 40th, 32nd, 31st, 29th, and 18th Avenues will also become off limits to cars and trucks.

More than 2/3 of Gulfport's railroad crossings are in Libby Milner Roland's ward. The councilwoman led the charge to close crossings with no arms, and no warning lights. "It's very important to the safety of the citizens of Gulfport. And it's important to CSX railroad," Roland said.

It's also important to Margaret Moran. But she's not sure closing her crossings, or any other crossing, will actually save lives. "Like I said, I feel sorry for the engineers," she thought, "because no matter what they leave open, there's going to be somebody, sometime thinking they can beat the train."

Councilwoman Roland has been told by CSX that the city's eight railroad crossings should close within six months. She said the railroad will also make sure any crossings in Gulfport that stay open have warning lights, bells, and crossing arms. This work will be paid for by CSX and the state.