2017-06-07 / Front Page

Trackside residents rattled by train horns & silence from CSX

by Kate Shunney

A CSX train heads east on a track near Great Cacapon. A CSX train heads east on a track near Great Cacapon. Residents who live along the railroad tracks in Great Cacapon have said they’re hearing too much of one thing and not enough of another.

Three months ago, residents there noticed a major change in how CSX trains rolling through the area were blowing their horns.

In some cases, people who have lived in the area for decades noticed much longer horn blasts as the train moved into the Great Cacapon area and west along the tracks. In response to questions, CSX officials told The Morgan Messenger that residents with concerns could contact the company by phone to share those complaints.

On March 9, Laura Phelps, CSX Transportation Media Relations Manager, wrote that “CSX has reviewed our operations through the Great Cacapon area and we expect horn noise to diminish.”

At the time, the company said train engineers “may use their own discretion” to blow the horn when a person or vehicle is on or near the tracks.

Phelps suggested residents call 1-877-TellCSX (835- 5279) with any concerns or questions they have about CSX operations.

Great Cacapon residents Jackie Lewis and Betty Adams both called that CSX number to ask why the passing train horns were so much longer.

Lewis said she left a detailed message but never heard from the train company. When she tried to call the number again, the phone prompt no longer gave her the option to leave a message about excess train noise, as it had before. Instead, she was urged to go to the company’s website to send a comment. She did that, and never got a response to her message.

In a third attempt to reach the company, she went back to the website, but the option to comment about “excessive horn noise” was gone from the website comment menu.

Adams said she also called the CSX phone number and left multiple messages over the course of a month. She’s never gotten a call back from CSX about her concerns.

No pattern

Lewis is confounded by the lack of consistency in how the horns blow. She has lived out on Woodmont Road, right along the tracks, for 30 years. The recent change in noise doesn’t seem to follow any pattern, she said.

“Some will start blowing as soon as they pass over the Cacapon River and blow all the way west. Others you’ll get four or five honks. Some don’t do it at all,” she said.

In fact, Lewis kept a written log for several days of when the trains passed her house and how their horns noise varied. On May 31 alone, she tallied six trains between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. Four of those trains blasted their horns more than normal as they passed through Great Cacapon, her notes say.

She said the change in noise started about three months ago, when there had been some crews working intermittently along the track. She said people in the neighborhood actually drove along the tracks to see if there was work being done that would require the trains to blow their horns more.

That’s not the case now.

“If they’re working out there, I can understand,” she said.

“My poor horse can’t sleep anymore,” said Lewis.

For Adams, the daytime trains aren’t a big bother. She’s lived along Woodmont Road for 14 years. She said the train horns now are “a lot louder and longer.”

She, Lewis and two neighbors have all been woken at 3 a.m. by the train horns.

“I love the trains, but I don’t like being woke up in the middle of the night,” said Adams. “I’m 72 and I need my beauty sleep,” she joked.

Adams said she hears the horns blow from the bridge over the Cacapon past Joe Dent’s property along Woodmont Road.

“It’s not fun hearing it so loud,” she said.

Both Adams and Lewis said the only railroad crossings in their area are hay field crossings used rarely. At least one of those farm crossings, at the Farris farm, was removed by CSX some time ago.

She’s also stumped by the inconsistency of the horns. A train passed as she was commenting for this story, and it didn’t blow its horn at all.

In responding to questions for this story, CSX spokesperson Phelps again said that engineers control their own horn use.

“There are many situations when train engineers are required to blow the horn - such as when they approach public at-grade railroad crossings. Other times, engineers may use their own discretion - such as when a person or vehicle is on or near the tracks,” Phelps wrote in an email.

She could not confirm if the change in horn usage was connected to the use of positive train controls, an automated safety system being installed in trains to regulate speed and other operations.

CSX communications

“We have shifted most of our communications to our online forum,” Phelps said in a separate phone interview to explain why local residents hadn’t gotten a response to their concerns.

“We now encourage all community members with questions about CSX operations to contact us through the online web forms at www.csx.com/tellcsx. That is the best way to reach our community affairs specialist and get a timely response,” she said via email.

People who don’t have internet access or prefer a different way to reach the company can send a letter to: TellCSX, 500 Water Street, J420, Jacksonville, FL 32202.

Phelps said it was “not acceptable” that residents had no response from the company when they called to complain about the train noise.

“Our goal is to respond to every question in a timely manner, with our highest priority being safety related matters.”

The company still has not contacted Lewis and Adams.

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I also have not had a

I also have not had a reply to some safety concerns involving CSX . one being the trestle on Magnolia a build up of debris underneath in the Potomac River . I even sent photos to CSX web site .