Charlie Rickman tried to address local and state government officials and employees of Norfolk Southern Railroad, but no one could hear him over the passing train’s whistle.
But in less than a minute, the coal train was gone, and Rickman could be heard again. He said the train moved just the way Manassas Mayor Marvin L. Gillum liked it — quickly.
Norfolk Southern and government officials held a joint ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday to celebrate the new crew changing station in Bristow. In front of the new building, Gillum said a partnership was formed between the company, the City of Manassas and the state, to move the crew changes from Manassas, where the slow-moving trains blocked traffic for 10-15 minutes at a time, to the more remote Bristow location.
The crews began changing in Bristow on Oct. 10.
“I am here today to tell you how excited the city is to finally start experiencing the improved emergency vehicle access, and the decreased traffic congestion that is due to train blockages,” Gillum said.
Manassas Delegate Harry J. Parrish, R-50th District, said he and Manassas Senator Charles J. Colgan, D-29th District, had been working for 10 years to improve the movement of trains in Manassas.
“This represents an advance in transportation, which everyone likes to see,” Colgan said.
Norfolk Southern employee Mike Myers said crew members driving to or from the changing station in Manassas were just as frustrated with the traffic as residents and other commuters. He was glad to see the new station in Bristow.
But Prince William County Supervisor L. Ben Thompson, R-Brentsville, reminded listeners of Norfolk Southern’s promise not to block Bristow Road.
Norfolk Southern employee Ted Pechie said this change needed to be done, but also worried it would present the same problem in a new location.
“I just hope things work out, that they don’t block Bristow Road,” Pechie said. “Because then you’re in the same position you were in Manassas.”
Rickman said Norfolk Southern plans to minimize blockage. Trains will stop short of crossing Bristow Road. Crews can then walk to and from the train, with the blocking arms down, so they can cross the road safely. The arms will then return upright, and vehicles will be able to pass. Once the train is ready to depart, and it has allowed all traffic to pass on the road, the arms will lower once more so the train can go through.
Normally, the train would stop in front of the changing station, blocking the road for 10 to 15 minutes. Rickman said there may be emergency situations where the train would have to block the road, but that would be a rarity.
“We didn’t want to move our problem from one community to the other,” Rickman said. “The representatives stood up for the people that elected them.”