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Town of Hanover emergency plan reacts to blockage of railroad crossings

SUNSET BAY – The Town of Hanover has an emergency plan in place for access to Sunset Bay and Hanford Bay in case the railroad crossings there are blocked by a stopped train, according to Supervisor Todd H. Johnson.

Johnson said local representatives, firefighters and sheriff’s deputies met with representatives of the CSX railroad company within three days after a train broke down and blocked the crossings for nearly eight hours June 28.

He said the situation was unusual because it originally was expected to last only about 90 minutes. A CSX train with mechanical problems blocked the road crossing at Alleghany and Hanford roads starting in the afternoon.

As the afternoon progressed, he said, railroad officials kept extending the time that they would have to keep the train stopped. Residents of Sunset and Hanford bays were blocked from crossing in or out of the area because of the stationary train.

Johnson, who is also a volunteer firefighter, said that emergency personnel were stationed on both sides of the tracks and that they were prepared to make arrangements to get people out of the blocked areas and to a hospital if needed. Sunset Bay Volunteer Fire Company members were instructed to use a private roadway between the two bay areas to respond to an emergency in Hanford Bay.

“You would have been amazed at the number of people who crawled under and between those trains,” Johnson said. He emphasized that this was very unsafe. “At the end of the day, no one was hurt; people were inconvenienced,” he said.

“Every disaster or emergency situation is never the same,” Johnson said. The recent issue of the train blocking the railroad crossings at Sunset and Hanford bays was a good example of a situation that was not common, he said. The railroad operators do not offer solutions for the occasional problems, but the Town Board has an emergency plan to assist residents who cannot leave the area and need services beyond the crossing.

“The good thing is, we had a plan in place,” Johnson said. “The fire chiefs were in contact, and we had a plan in place to handle an emergency.”

The supervisor said that if needed, a stretcher could have been passed between train cars to a waiting ambulance on the south side of the crossing.

Johnson said that Sheriff Joseph A. Gerace suggested landing a helicopter in the area and, weather permitting, bringing a boat in if there is another lengthy blockade of the crossings.

One resident said she had to crawl between train cars to get back into the Sunset Bay area after being away from her home for six hours. “You never know when the train is going to move and you could be hurt badly,” Johnson replied.

The supervisor said police officers were stationed at areas along the tracks to try to prevent people from climbing between or under train cars.

There are two sets of train tracks at the road crossings. CSX operates one, and Norfolk Southern the other.