DADE CITY — City officials issued a scathing letter to railroad giant CSX Transportation after a crew abandoned a train, cutting off major intersections and setting off a public safety emergency for Dade City police.
At a recent City Commission meeting, police Chief Ray Velboom told commissioners that on July 11 just after 1 p.m., his department began getting calls that a freight train had stopped on the railroad tracks. When officers got to the train, they found it running but with no crew inside or outside the engine. It was blocking Martin Luther King Boulevard, River Road and Tuskeegee Avenue from the west side of the city.
When police called CSX for answers, company officials said the crew had "run out of hours" and had to stop the train, according to a complaint letter Dade City Manager Billy Poe later issued to CSX.
Velboom told the Times he learned that crews can only drive trains for 12-hour stretches at a time. The problem on July 11 became that a new crew from CSX did not get on the scene for hours, so the train did not depart until 6 p.m.
CSX officials did not respond to requests for comment.
During the five-hour ordeal, things turned chaotic as residents from neighborhoods east of the railroad began trying to get out. Some people even tried to climb over the train and were taken back to their homes by police trying to control the scene.
Velboom said the incident tied up numerous Dade City officers and Pasco County sheriff's deputies, who also assisted in controlling the scene. Velboom added it was lucky that the train was empty, as there were concerns that there could be dangerous chemicals on board or valuable cargo that could have been susceptible to theft.
"It was absurd," Velboom said of CSX's actions.
Poe also blasted CSX in his letter, writing that the "blocking of this neighborhood, without so much as a phone call, is unconscionable."
"These careless actions severely limited the capabilities of even basic emergency services response and could have been catastrophic to our citizens," Poe wrote.