Trapped at the tracks: Are trains hurting emergency response times in Alabaster?

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ALABASTER, Ala. (WIAT) — People in Alabaster wonder whether if, in the event of an emergency, first responders will be able to get to them quickly enough, or get stuck at the train tracks.

“Those are seconds that could be — minutes that could be critical,” said Matthew Hood, watching cell phone video of an Alabaster fire engine Tuesday afternoon, as it waited for a train to pass near the intersection of Highways 31 and 119.

“In situations like that, there’s just got to be an alternate route for it or something, because people’s lives are on the line half the time when that happens,” he said.

According to the Alabaster Fire Department, that engine was held up for a total of 117 seconds. It was on the way to a car accident, where an ambulance from another Alabaster fire station was already attending to those involved.

Mayor Marty Handlon understands Hood’s concern.

“I think every citizen that is sitting at a stopped train and sees either an ambulance or a public safety vehicle, they wonder if there’s somebody that’s not getting the immediate care that they need because of the train,” Handlon said.

Handlon said she has tried to talk to railroad companies, the state government and members of Congress about possible solutions, but those conversations have been no help.

“I just think everybody knows that it’s a problem, but there’s not really anything that anybody’s willing to do to help,” Handlon said. “Absent a large amount of money to build an overpass or an underpass, we’re going to have to learn to live with them.”

Alabaster’s Fire Chief, Jim Golden, said he and his department work to ensure that a train does not get in the way of an emergency response.

“When we have an emergency, one of the most important things is time,” Golden said. “Our firefighters and paramedics are trained. We know our community well and know the quickest route to get to the scene.”

Golden explained that Alabaster’s three fire stations are placed on opposite sides of railroad tracks so that someone can respond no matter what. He also said CSX contacts the department if it knows of any significant delays on the tracks, so first responders can take a different route to an emergency.

Handlon said there has never been a reported case in which an emergency situation was compromised due to a train delay.

“I try not to spend a lot of time worrying about the things I can’t control, and we pray and just hope that we never find ourselves in that situation,” Handlon said.

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