By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – A sinking railroad track at the Crosstown intersection has led to about 40 complaint calls to City Hall and at least one flat tire in the last year.
Drivers not used to dodging the spot feel a dip a few inches in their vehicles and hear sounds underneath from the railroad track.
City officials say they have little authority to repair the problem for traffic crossing the city street, pointing instead to the BNSF Railway Company, whose trains run east and west along the track crossing Main Street and Gloster.
Darrell Smith, chief operations officer for the city of Tupelo, said citizen complaints led him to make a weekly call to BNSF officials, asking when the railroad company will do something to resolve the problem.
“We’ve been anxious to get it fixed for a year,” Smith said. “I’ve called the railroad at least once a week.”
Last week, someone driving his vehicle east on Main Street across the railroad tracks heard a noise and then realized one of his tires was flat.
Smith sent the police report documenting damage to the vehicle to BNSF officials. He said regulations prohibit the city from repairing anything 15 feet from the center line of the track.
“If they don’t fix things, it could tear the whole bottom out of a car,” Smith said.
Joe Faust, BNSF director of public affairs for the region including Mississippi, said Friday he didn’t have direct knowledge of the issue but would look into it.
“Our management is very responsive to the concerns of the community,” Faust said. “We will look at this situation immediately and take corrective action if needed.”
Problems with the railroad track can be traced underground, where water and moisture have caused one of the rails to sink, Smith said. He said solving the problem will involve raising the track.
Ward 1 Councilman Markel Whittington said he wished the railroad had that approach a year ago. He said he’s tired of waiting on the railroad to take action and now supports the city filing a lawsuit against the railroad to motivate the company to take action.
“I think it’s appropriate,” Whittington said of a lawsuit. “The municipality has the right against the railroad to force them to fix that crossing.”
Before a lawsuit is filed, a majority of the City Council must authorize it.
Last week, Smith and Mayor Jason Shelton met with two representatives with the railroad about the issue.
Shelton, who took office earlier this month, said he has known about the problem for a while and also wants the issue resolved. But he isn’t ready to file a lawsuit.
“I’ve learned from experience that filing a lawsuit isn’t a good way to start endeavors,” said Shelton, an attorney.
Shelton said he plans to meet with railroad officials again soon, although he said no set date was scheduled.
“I’m optimistic about getting it solved,” Shelton said. “It’s something they need to move quickly on.”