March 26 was a long day for the two-person crew of a CSX train traveling from Cumberland, Md.
As the crew neared central Virginia, the members also neared the end of their 12-hour shift. Federal regulations dictate a rest period, so another crew would continue the journey to Hamlet, N.C.
As the locomotive and its roughly 120 cars of mixed freight rumbled into Hanover County, it became clear that the train would not reach the 250-acre Acca Yard in Henrico County before the crew’s allotted shift ended. The engineer stopped just south of Ashland alongside Center Street Road about 3:25 p.m.
It remained there for several hours.
The lights flashed at the crossing at Gwathmey Church Road and the barrier arms lowered as the train approached. About five minutes later, the Hanover County Sheriff’s Office was notified that the stopped train had sealed off vehicular access. A walking trail, the Ashland Trolley Line, became the only link to homes on Gwathmey Church Road and Meriturn Place.
“We are making contact with CSX folk to better understand Saturday’s event,” said Hanover County Administrator Cecil R. “Rhu” Harris Jr.
Melanie Cost, a CSX spokeswoman, said other trains and the holiday weekend were the cause for the length of the road closure. Typically, a location away from road crossings is chosen for shift changes, she said.
“CSX makes every effort to plan accordingly so that crews can change shifts where traffic is not disrupted and the surrounding community is not impacted,” Cost said in an email. “In this case, delays from other trains prevented the Ashland train from getting into the Richmond terminal in time for the crew change, and limited holiday weekend crew availability contributed to the delay in moving the train.”
Federal laws governing hours of work for railroad employees date to the early 1900s. If crews exceed their shifts, railroad companies are subject to penalties ranging from a minimum of $650 to $105,000 in instances involving a grossly negligent violation or a pattern of repeated violations, according to the Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2008.
During the stoppage, the cab of the locomotive was locked and other measures were taken to secure the train, Cost said. Per federal regulations, certified drivers picked up and dropped off the two crews. The stopped train, on a section of double tracks, did not affect other train traffic, Cost said.
Stoppages like Saturday’s are rare in the region. The last one occurred last year in Henrico. That train was even closer to Acca Yard before its mandated stop.
Hungary Road and several other streets were shuttered in April 2015 due to a shift change on a freight train, said Lt. Chris Eley, spokesman for Henrico police. It occurred about 5:30 a.m. on a Friday.
Despite the nearby overpass on Parham Road and other alternate routes, “it was a mess,” Eley said. Vehicles did not start moving again in the high-traffic area until about 10:30 a.m., he said.
Hanover motorists on Saturday dealt with the delay on Gwathmey Church Road for about the same amount of time. About 8:30 p.m., the train resumed its trek. The red lights ceased their blinking, the barrier arms finally rose and traffic flowed on the narrow country road again.