Update: Norfolk Southern’s downtown rail replacement sidetracks motorists

Gary B. Gray • Mar 4, 2013 at 5:14 PM

Downtown Johnson City became a maze of dead ends and detours Monday and the work week got off to a steamy start for some motorists visibly irritated with Norfolk Southern Railroad’s track replacement at about a half dozen well-traveled roads.

Johnson City Transit System Director Eldonna Janutolo expressed her frustration near the end of the day after being asked how things had gone with the abrupt disruptions.

“The word I got last week was they were going to do one intersection at a time,” said a none-too-pleased Janutolo. “Our composure, yes, we kept our composure. Our routes? No. We’ve been traveling around in circles, and that’s just a part of it when we have to go through this. I feel sorry for the passengers standing out there waiting for a bus. But we’re dealing with it; we’re doing our best.”

The city’s Community Relations Office told the Johnson City Press they were notified on March 1 that Norfolk Southern would begin replacing the steel rail on their tracks starting Monday. Chris Williams, the company’s assistant division engineer, referred the Press to Susan Terpay, public relations director. Terpay was not immediately available.

Johnson City Traffic Engineer Anthony Todd said the city and the railroad did communicate, saying the railroad “gave us some information.”

“Their operation either goes the way it’s supposed to, or it doesn’t,” he said in what could be defined as the old “grain of salt” tone. “We usually don’t get a lot of advance notice, and we were not given specifics. So when they get ready they just go. I don’t know how to change it, but their operations really are fairly quick. I would love to tell everybody which ones (crossings) are going to be open and which ones are going to be closed.”

Todd said the railroad has only about six hours each day to work. After that, they must have the tracks back in place, because the heavy metal will be rolling in.

Workers on Monday ignited devices that weld what is known as a “signal maintainer” to the outer edge of the track. The maintainers actually are ground wires which activate crossing signals ahead of a train when the engine’s wheels first brush across them.

The railroad is replacing 23 miles of old line from just west of Piney Flats to Limestone, but the focus now is directly on Johnson City.

The new rail is roughed in with a mixture of coal and rock, and that is what passers-by will see once this crew moves it way along State of Franklin Road. This phase should be complete in the downtown area in about one week. Though a specific time is not yet known, another crew will follow behind. This crew will remove the mix and replace it with fresh asphalt.

“It could be a month; it could be two months,” said Jerry Holt, a private contractor who supplies traffic and directional signaling for the railroad. “We only know they are working there way up here behind us.”

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