DADE CITY — After being blasted by public officials, railroad giant CSX vowed to change its practices in the future.
The company pledged to notify local officials when a train is stopped — something it failed to do during two incidents in the past six weeks — and said crews have been told to separate train cars at railroad crossings to let drivers through.
"We understand the frustrations of residents and local officials and are making operational adjustments," wrote Kristin Seay, a CSX spokeswoman. "CSX will make every attempt to keep trains running through Dade City except under emergency circumstances."
On Tuesday, a 129-car freight train over a mile long stopped for 90 minutes during the morning traffic rush, blocking all but one intersection leading to the city's east side.
On July 11, a train sat on the tracks for five hours, finally moving about 6 p.m.
CSX representatives said the trains stopped because crews had reached the federally mandated limit of their work hours. Continuing after that point is referred to as "outlawing."
Dade City Manager Bill Poe said this week that he couldn't understand why CSX can't anticipate the time limits and stop the trains so they don't block crossings in his small town.
"They should know when they are about to run out of hours and send another crew," he said. "This is a dispatch problem."
The company sent a public apology later Tuesday, calling the incident an "inconvenience."
But that didn't appease Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco. He fired off an email to CSX in which he said the company's statement "shows an appalling lack of concern for the situation."
U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, joined the criticism Thursday, saying the delays "represented an irresponsible and flagrant disregard for the public safety needs of our community."
Bilirakis said he initiated a Federal Railroad Administration investigation of the incidents.
"The people of Pasco do deserve better than this, and I will not rest until I receive assurances that those responsible will be held accountable and that proper plans are in place to prioritize the health, safety and well-being of our community," Bilirakis wrote.
After the followup email from CSX, Nocco seemed cautiously optimistic.
"We appreciate that CSX recognized this is a public safety issue, and it is a quality of life issue for Dade City residents," he said. "We hope that they stand by their word and it is proven in their actions."