New Kent Co. launches grant program to make private train crossings safer

Published: Jul. 20, 2021 at 6:39 PM EDT
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NEW KENT COUNTY, Va. (WWBT) - Nearly a month since a Mechanicsville man was killed after his truck was struck by an oncoming passenger train in New Kent County, county leaders are unveiling a new program to make those private crossings safer.

Thursday, at the request of the New Kent County Board of Supervisors, the county’s Economic Development Authority considered a proposed grant and loan program to assist property owners with improved signage and pavement markings at private rail crossings. The EDA unanimously approved the program after receiving a presentation from staff and hearing comments from members of the community.

The program will allow residents with private rail crossings on their property to apply for up to $10,000 in assistance and up to $10,000 in loan funding with 0% interest payable in 60 monthly payments.

Communities could use this to install features like solar-powered flashing stop signs and pavement markings, all in an effort to make private crossings in the county - which often lack lights, alarms and cross arms - safer.

Jon Caldwell, the Vice President of the Rockahock campground, which lies beyond the private crossing at Outpost Road says the community is grateful for what the county has done so far, but adds that the company that owns the crossing isn’t doing enough.

“I think that what the county is doing is a good thing, that they are responding, but I do not believe that it is the solution,” Caldwell said. “I believe that CSX should put up cross arms here. CSX should not have to put up cross arms on just state roads, they should have to put up cross arms where traffic is higher.”

But $10,000 will only stretch so far. According to VDOT, more expensive versions of signs that include varying features, such as flashing stop signs powered by solar panels, can cost between $1,000 and $2,500, possibly more. The county says it’s aware that this is only a short-term solution; and adds that it would like to see additional help from the state and CSX which owns the private crossings.

“While the immediate actions of the Board of Supervisors and Economic Development Authority will enhance the safety of private crossings,” County Administrator Rodney Hathaway said. “The county sees this solution as a temporary measure and is currently working with federal and state agencies and elected officials to secure resources and assistance for the installation of full-signalized crossings, with guide arms at high traffic private crossings in the county.”

“The family is appreciative that New Kent is stepping up and doing something, but they still believe that if there was proper signage - their family member would still be alive,” Caldwell said. “That is a 100-ton missile that is coming through our campground at 70 miles an hour, and it is a threat every time it comes through here.”

A few weeks after the deadly train crash, CSX said that safety is its highest priority and that it strives to be a good neighbor and limit the impact of its operations on local communities, adding that it’s committed to improving public safety and maintaining an open line of communication with local officials, the roadway authority and the roadway owner.

NBC12 reached out to CSX for additional comment on its plans, if any, to make private crossings that lack typical safety measures safer. At this time, CSX has not responded to the request for comment.

“I don’t even know how much addressing they’ve done other than what their protocol is to clean up an accident; that is all I’ve seen of CSX in response to this accident,” Caldwell said.

Now, Caldwell hopes the grant program can buy the county enough time for permanent solutions before another tragedy at the Outpost Road crossing strikes again.

”The county has promised us that this is not the end for them and that they are going to keep fighting until we get cross arms,” Caldwell said.

New Kent County leaders say they’ve already reached out to four different communities, including the Rockahock Campground, on applying for the grant program. Officials say a link for the grant program will go live on its website by Wednesday.

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