On Track 

The city looks at ways to ease congestion at railroad crossings.

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When trains roll past the intersection of Highland and Southern, traffic often backs up to Park to the south and Central to the north, creating a huge problem for University of Memphis students and pretty much anyone on a schedule.

In the past 10 years, there were 49 incidents in Memphis involving cars, trucks, and pedestrians trying to cross train tracks. Six of those resulted in injuries, and three ended in death. Last week, a Bartlett man's leg was severed by a train on tracks near the Kirby-Whitten overpass.

The Memphis Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) hopes to alleviate some of the congestion and safety concerns by building several bridges over train tracks along the Poplar/Southern corridor. That stretch of track runs along Poplar Avenue with crossings located at major north-south roads, like White Station, Perkins, and Mt. Moriah.

The MPO currently is hosting a series of public meetings to gather input from citizens on where change is most needed.

Planners estimates the average daily traffic volume at crossings in the study area to be around 370,000 vehicles per day.

"Right now, there are 35 to 45 trains that come through that corridor daily," says Paul Morris, an MPO transportation planner. "There are 63 crossings in that study area, and 49 are on public roads. With 40 trains a day on 49 public crossings, there are a lot of opportunities for blockage. A train with 130 cars can block each crossing for about four to five minutes."

The Poplar/Southern corridor is operated by the Norfolk Southern rail line, which is considering a new intermodal facility in Fayette County. If they build a new facility there, it could mean even more train traffic along the corridor.

"I've sat through two trains back to back by the Eastgate Shopping Center at White Station and Poplar," Morris says. "There's a double track there and as soon as one train went by, another one came through on the other track."

Besides congestion and safety issues, train blockages pose serious problems for ambulances and fire trucks. There are only three crossings along the Poplar/Southern corridor where emergency vehicles can cross over or under the tracks.

The MPO hopes to identify six crossings along the stretch that could accommodate bridges to carry trains over traffic or traffic over trains.

"The tough part about this challenge is there's so much development along the corridor," Morris says. "You don't want to go in and displace businesses, so we have to look at what we can practically do. You couldn't do [a bridge] by Oak Court Mall."

Public meetings will be held on Thursday, June 18th, at the University of Memphis Holiday Inn and on Thursday, June 25th, at White Station Church of Christ.

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