Baldwin’s two year fight to stop Jacksonville-based CSX Railroad Company from causing traffic congestion has made its way to the State House.
Mayor Sean Lynch wrote a House Bill (HB 309) that aims to cut down on CSX train stops, which Jacksonville Representative Wyman Duggan is sponsoring on behalf of the town that is located within Jacksonville’s city limits on the far Westside.
Lynch said CSX’s 15,000-foot-long trains are blocking traffic, creating safety concerns, and hurting business in his 1,400 person town.
“It’s caused a big problem for the restaurants and the stores,” he said. “Our grocery store has closed because of people not coming into town.”
Lynch said the town began experiencing the disruptive stops in March of 2017 when CSX decided to extend the length of the train from 7,000 to 15,000 feet, which he said is about 2 miles.
The multi-billion dollar railroad company’s decision led to some business closings and a decline in the number of people visiting Baldwin, according to Lynch. That’s what he said prompted him to action.
In late 2017, Lynch began meeting with Duggan, who filed the the mayor’s bill earlier this month.
“The operating changes that CSX implemented when new management took over and closed a rail yard in South Georgia, that would have accommodated these trains,” said Duggan “It’s relying on the Baldwin yard, which is simply not large enough.”
If the bill passes, CSX would be fined for the disruptive stops starting this summer. The fine would increase based on the amount of time of each stop.
If the crossing is blocked for more than 15 minutes, but less than 20 minutes, CSX would be charged $200. That rate goes to $300 for 30 minutes, and $600 for blocking the crossing for more than 30 minutes, but less than an hour.
The fines hit $1,200 for blocking a crossing for an hour, plus another $1,000 for every additional 15 minutes.
Lynch said CSX is more interested in their shareholders making money than the livelihoods of small towns.
“The town of Baldwin was built around trains over the last 50 years. Half the people in Baldwin are on a CSX retirement, so we respect the trains. But we don’t agree with them staying stopped for so long,” he said.
A bypass project that could alleviate the problem is slated for completion late next year.
“It should [alleviate] all the heavy articulated trucks coming through town,” said Lynche. “But by using that, that’s not going to be a fix for the train being stopped on the road”
Our Florida Times-Union news partner reported Jacksonville Sen. Aaron Bean will introduce a companion bill and Fleming Island Sen. Rob Bradley wrote a letter to CSX President and CEO Jim Foote to work with affected communities, particularly Baldwin, to reduce the problem.
According to the The Times-Union, CSX received nearly 170 tickets from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office in 2018 but paid only 18 of the $100 fines.