By David A. Farrell, Item Staff Writer
The Picayune Item
Since Picayune’s incorporation in 1904, train traffic here has been the center of attention because the tracks split Picayune into halves.
Railroad officials have reminded city officials from time-to-time that the city grew up around the railroad and not vice versa. The tracks and a depot torn down years ago were once the center of activity, and all attention was focused there.
The trains now still draw attention, but for a different reason.
One of the city founders, Col. Simmons, in the early 1900s gave the railroad property in the then small village’s center on which to establish a depot and switching yard to help Picayune grow.
At one time, nine passenger trains daily ran through Picayune, stopping at the depot at the corner of West Canal and the then Northeast and New Orleans tracks. The tracks are now owned by Norfolk-Southern. The only passenger trains that run through town are an Amtrak passenger train that goes north in the morning and south in the evening. However, freight trains still pass through in numbers, mostly at night.
However, some come through in the early morning hours and block the railway crossings in the center of the city during the morning rush hour. The trains’ timing is impeccable, mostly right at a few minutes to 8 a.m.
So the train topic came up at Tuesday’s city council meeting, when councilman Larry Breland complained about trains blocking the Bruce Street crossing near Don’s Seafood for long periods of time during the morning rush hour.
Breland complained to the council and wanted Picayune officials to look into the matter and see if anything could be done about the situation, which upsets Breland and angers motorists trying to get to work and carry their kids to school only to be blocked by a train stretched across the crossing.
There are five crossings in the city: One at 5th Avenue, one at the east end of Goodyear Boulevard, one at West Canal, where the old depot used to be before it was torn down, one at Bruce Street near Don’s Seafood and one at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard near the Industrial Park. There is also a highway overpass on Mississippi Highway 43 North, which, by being an overpass, is never blocked.
The crossing at Don’s, one on West Canal and the Goodyear crossing are the crossings that are usually blocked in the morning. Motorists then head for the 5th Avenue and Martin Luther King crossings, which are usually open but are congested.
Breland said that the congestion and erratic dashes for the clear crossings is presenting a dangerous traffic situation, and said that emergency police and ambulance services could be blocked, too, at critical times.
Said Breland to the council: “The blockages near Don’s can last from 10-to-30 minutes. Eventually something bad is going to happen there. Motorists and emergency vehicles can’t get across and have to go around, making congestion even worse.”
Breland added, “I am concerned about emergency vehicles needing to get to the hospital or a wreck, and there might be a need for a police vehicle to get to an emergency. That could mean the difference between life and death. Something needs to be done about this.”
Councilman Wayne Gouguet, who chaired the Tuesday meeting as mayor pro tempore since Mayor Ed Pinero, Jr., was out of town during the holidays, asked Picayune Police Dept. Deputy Chief Chad Dorn if he could clarify matters.
Dorn told Gouguet that he would have to research the matter, but he thought there is a city ordinance that says trains can’t block crossings for more than 20 minutes at a time.
Replied Breland, “Sometimes the holdup is longer than 20 minutes.”
Said City Manager Jim Luke, who used to be the police chief, “I don’t think it matters what type of train it is, whether passenger or freight, and I do understand that the police department can issue citations. Past history shows that they are real quick to pay the citations, but they still block the crossings.”
Replied Gouguet, “Well, maybe we are not making them pay enough.”
Replied Luke, “We may want to revisit the ordinance, and have the police department look into it and see what other cities along the line are doing about this issue. They (the railroad) probably have similar problems in other cities. We need to see how those cities’ ordinances are written and compare theirs to ours.”
Replied Breland, “I can understand it happening some, but now it is quite a bit. Traffic backs up on Bruce Street, and cars start pulling out, heading for the other crossings. It creates a bottleneck.”
Replied Luke, “We do at city hall receive a number of calls about the tie-ups and the situation. We will ask Chad to look into this and report back to us at the next council meeting.”