New rails are being laid at every Norfolk Southern Railway crossing from Piney Flats Road all the way through Limestone, which will include those along busy University Parkway in Johnson City.
According to Jerry Holt, contractor with Norfolk Southern, his crew of six has been working to bury new rails outside the existing rails and getting ready for the next railroad gang to come through and lay the new rails.
Burying the rails includes digging out the ground on each side of the existing rails, placing the rails in the ground and then covering them up with a rock and coal mix that is similar to asphalt, but does not get as hard or as permanent.
Because of the temporary mix, Holt said the railroad crossings will be a bit rough until the new rails are permanently placed and smoothed out.
The next step will be to place the rails, which will occur toward the end of February when another gang comes in with several pieces of machinery to work on the crossings.
“They have to pull every spike, move every plate and set everything off and re-plug the holes with ... wooden plugs. They’ve got a machine that comes through and lays that rail back over in the track after they lay the plates,” he said.
After installation, all of the crossings will be paved to smooth out the rough parts on the tracks.
Holt said replacing rails depends on the amount of traffic the rails get.
“It just depends on the rail and how many trains they run,” he said. “It could be five years, it could be longer. I really don’t know.”
As for replacing them along this stretch of the railroad, he said he doesn’t recall ever putting them in the 13 years he’s been working with Norfolk Southern.
Holt said it’s hard to estimate when the entire project –– from Piney Flats Road through Limestone –– will be completed, but said it could last through March and maybe even into April.
While there will be some inconvenience as the new rails are installed, Holt said it’s a necessary part of railroad maintenance.
“It’s for (the community’s) safety. If we don’t fix these rails and a train comes through there and derails and it’s got chemicals on it and it spills, it could kill thousands of people through town and everywhere else,” he said. “It has to be done.”