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Traffic nightmare in Metairie leads to calls for change in railroad management

METAIRIE, LA (WVUE) -

If you drove through Old Metairie Monday afternoon, you probably sat in a good deal of traffic. Some safety gates stuck in the down position at a railroad crossing caused a huge back up, one that lawmakers want to prevent from happening again.

Some tried, unsuccessfully, to cross the tracks. Others, were forced to wait.

The safety gates protecting the railroad tracks at Metairie Road and Frisco Avenue went down at two Monday afternoon, with no train in sight, after having just been fixed.

Kathy Puissegur said, “This happened last Friday also and I think it's a very dangerous situation.”

Some vehicles sat for as long as an hour, stuck with no place to go. That is until JPSO deputies showed up to help direct traffic.

“It's not fun, I have to figure out how I'm going to get home now,” motorist Dan Cross said.

Public Service Commissioner Eric Skrmetta says he received numerous calls over the weekend about the gates being stuck. He witnessed drivers attempt to swerve around them, risking their lives to cross the tracks. Skrmetta says it's time to change the way situations like this, are handled. “The self policing aspect of this just really isn't working,” Skrmetta said.

State Rep. Bryan Adams of Terrytown recently filed legislation that would allow the Public Service Commission to collect fees from railroad companies and employ commission enforcement agents, who would then inspect crossings for safety measures.

Right now, Norfolk Southern controls the portion of the railroad on Metairie Road where the gates were stuck, and is responsible for it's maintenance.

“All we want to do is, have the state authorize the fee, let the Department of Revenue collect it and let them meter it out to the commission as necessary to pay the agents,” Skrmetta explained.

It's not a new idea. But Skrmetta says it's been blocked before in the legislature. He points to situations like the one with the gates malfunctioning every couple of days as a prime example of why state lawmakers need to reconsider the proposal.

Four and a half hours after they first went down, Norfolk Southern crews were able to raise the gates, for the tail end of rush hour traffic.

The chairman of the Louisiana Railroad Association says the railroad industry invests heavily in safety and uses the most up to date technology to monitor rail lines in Louisiana. He also said the association is in discussion with Rep. Adams about his proposal.

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