Railroad derailment could be a wake up call, community activist says

Published 12:17 pm Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Community Activist Roy Smith took to the podium at the Brookhaven Board of Aldermen meeting Tuesday night. Holding a stack of index cards, he addressed the council, urging them to reconsider building an overpass or underpass of the railroad tracks downtown. 

It is an idea he has pushed for the past 15 to 20 years. He noted it was ironic and a coincidence a freight train carrying coal derailed from the tracks and stopped in downtown Brookhaven blocking several railroad crossings on board meeting day.

“Now I can say something no one ever wants to hear. I told you. Didn’t I tell you so,” Smith said. “The people of Brookhaven were cut off from their necessities. Right now, with gas prices as high as they are, it was an eight to 10-mile detour to get to amenities on the other side of the tracks. We need to act now. Let’s get on it. Need I say more. It should be a wake-up call. We can’t afford to hit the snooze button again.” 

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He reminded the board there were federal grants for infrastructure projects available. 

How bad was the train derailment? 

Brookhaven’s Emergency Management Coordinator Chris Reid said the derailment was a mess, but the city was blessed the cars stayed on the tracks. An equipment malfunction with the wheel caused the derailment and tore up the crossing at East Monticello Street. 

He said the crossing would be closed until Friday and should be fixed by then. 

“Traffic was rough, but we made it through it. We are blessed. It didn’t fall over, and it wasn’t carrying chemicals. It was just a coal train,” Reid said. “I talked to several railroad guys who said they don’t know how it stayed on the tracks.” 

Dan Campbell, with Dignity Hospice on East Monticello, said the derailment and closure of the Monticello rail crossing had not inconvenienced his commute from downtown, and it did not harm the business as they do not rely on walk-ins. He said Tuesday, when people couldn’t cross the tracks, they stalled out. 

A few of his nurses had to take a detour on their way to work Tuesday via Industrial Park Road. 

“If you didn’t know where Industrial was, it would have been difficult for you,” Campbell said. “If they didn’t know how to get to Industrial, I was able to help them get here.”

Debris clean up 

Citizens from Brookhaven’s Ward 3 were present and spoke with aldermen Charles J. Caston Sr. before the meeting to complain about the slow process of debris pickup. He pressed Solid Waste manager Tion Lebbage for an explanation. 

“I am working on the trucks because of how my budget is. I just now got a truck up and running, and I had been down to one. I have people quitting,” Lebbage said. 

He added he helps the water department and street department when they are shorthanded. 

“I’m helping everyone, but I’m down two trucks. It is $5,600 to lease a truck. If all three trucks aren’t running, I can’t pick it up as fast,” Lebbage said. 

Brookhaven Mayor Joe Cox said the city is looking at options to get additional trucks. A new truck would cost the city $150,000. 

City Attorney Bobby Moak would later address Smith’s infrastructure concerns with a statement before going over his presentations to the board. American Rescue Plan Act funds, and the railroad may be able to fund an infrastructure project, he said.

Additionally, he addressed Lebbage’s concerns by reminding everyone of applications for the American Rescue Plan Act funds. He said they might use ARPA funds for equipment and hire additional personnel to solve issues Lebbage has faced. 

“We have been working on that the past several months. July 1st is the first time we can ask for that money,” Moak said. “This board has been working on those things under the radar. There hasn’t been an opportunity yet to step through the door with applications. We are about to put that into fruition.” 

Other board actions

  •  Voted to award an off-road diesel bid to James Case Oil. 
  • Voted to correct the wording of the city’s drug testing policy to quarterly instead of twice a year.