By Ed Brock
The freight trains that pass through Clayton County on a regular basis will be picking up speed soon and railroad officials are warning drivers to be more careful.
Norfolk Southern Corporation has been working on its tracks from Atlanta to Macon, installing new ties and making improvements to crossings. As a result, in the next week or two the speed limit for trains as they pass through those crossings will increase from 10 mph to 30 mph, Norfolk Southern Trainmaster Joe Fulford said.
"Drivers should just be aware that the trains are going to get to certain points faster," Fulford said. "They may be used to seeing the train and then the train getting to them two or three minutes later. It's not going to be that way anymore."
The average train that is traveling at that speed needs nearly a quarter of a mile to stop, Fulford explained.
Stopping on the railroad tracks is not illegal in Georgia unless the warning signals are on and the crossbars are down, Clayton County police Capt. Jeff Turner said.
"It's not illegal, but it's not very safe," Turner said.
If a train starts coming and the crossbars come down while a driver is on the tracks then the driver is basically stuck, Turner said.
That's why Kent Ross of Rex doesn't stop on the tracks.
"A train, they're so heavy, even if they are going 10 mph they can't stop," Ross said.
City of Morrow employee Lisa Sewell said her father taught her not to stop on the tracks, but she's seen other drivers do it.
"And they honk their horns at you because you won't go on the tracks," Sewell said. "I'm sorry, but I won't move."
Most of the trains moving through Morrow are going to the Sherwin-Williams Co. paint plant on Ga. Highway 54, said the city's Public Works Director Jeff Eady.
Eady said he hadn't heard about the increase in the train's speed limit.
The Norfolk Southern tracks also pass through Forest Park, Jonesboro and Lovejoy. The track may become part of a proposed Macon/Atlanta commuter rail service. The first leg of that service, from Atlanta to Lovejoy, is still awaiting approval by Gov. Sonny Perdue.
Norfolk Southern crews are still working on crossings in the county, installing new material to make the crossings smoother for vehicles. Fulford said he was not sure when the work would be completed.