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A mix-up in communications among railroad crews left a lot of people on the south side of Shelbyville completely sidetracked Wednesday morning.
All three crossings of Norfolk Southern Railroad in the vicinity of Kentucky Street were closed at the same time, blocking traffic headed to and from Zaring Mill and Mack Walters roads and blocking residents in or out of several streets – and even entire neighborhoods.
“I’ve been working all night long, and now I can’t even get home to go to bed,” said a fuming Josh Thacker, fuming in a call to The Sentinel-News from his vehicle as he sat at the closed crossing at Kentucky Street.
Thacker’s situation was the same as many faced, just as adults headed out to work and children to their first day of school.
Shortly after Norfolk Southern Railroad crews shut down crossings on Kentucky Street, Zaring Mill Road and 7th Street at 7:30 a.m., calls began coming into city hall with people outraged about the situation, Mayor Tom Hardesty said.
“What a catastrophe!” he said. “It caused a real logistical problem for people living on the south side of town.”
Norfolk Southern shut down railroad crossings at three locations, Kentucky Street, Mack Walters (Zaring Mill) and 7th Street, for track construction for several hours Wednesday morning.
Robin Chapman, spokesperson for Norfolk Southern, said that railroad officials contact the appropriate personnel the day before they plan to close a crossing.
“They are supposed to notify the local officials, particularly the street and highway officials to let them known where the locality is; it’s standard procedure,” he said.
Shelbyville City Engineer and Public Works Director Jennifer Herrell said that railroad officials told her the situation was because of a miscommunication.
"I made phone calls today [Wednesday] to see what was going on, especially since they closed Kentucky Street and Mack Walters at the same time,” she said. “That was not their intention. The original plan was to close Kentucky at nine, do Kentucky, then jump over to Mack Walters, then jump over to Old Finchville.
“There was miscommunication between the track supervisor and the [construction] crew, and for some reason they started Kentucky Street between seven-thirty and a quarter to eight, and then, before they finished that, they closed Mack Walters."
Even though Herrell did not mention the crossing at 7th Street, it s also was closed, blocking the only direct route to Southside Elementary.
Chapman confirmed that the situation happened because of a mix-up.
“That is true,” he said. “There was an internal miscommunication about how many crossings were to be done today. They weren’t supposed to do all three of them today. I’m not exactly sure what they did to them, but it was just routine maintenance on all of the crossings. It’s what we call program maintenance.”
Sheriff pushes for action
Darlene Steven, who owns a stable in Shelbyville, said that when she headed out to go to Tapp’s Feed on Kentucky Street, she couldn’t get through.
“This was ridiculous; it took two hours to get feed,” she said. “I placed a number of phone calls to  dispatch, who transferred me to Shelbyville Police, who said there was nothing they could do.
“Then [she called] Sheriff Mike Armstrong, who said, ‘What do you want me to do?’ And I said, ‘Come down and fix the problem.’ He told me to call the road department. I told him I was done calling people. Finally the sheriff arrived and opened the road half finished, so cars could pass.”
Armstrong said when he got the call he went down to the crossing at Kentucky Street and saw a long line of cars with people sitting in them with their motors shut off.
He said he went up to two railroad employees and told them that it just wouldn’t do to have all three crossings shut down at the same time.
“I didn’t have the authority to make them do anything,” he said, adding that they acted like they didn’t know there was a problem with the other crossings.
“But they were very nice and very accommodating, and by the time I got back in my car and was turning around, they were opening up a portion of the crossing,” he said.
Kentucky Street reopened at about 11:15 a.m., Mack Walters at noon, and the 7th Street crossing at 1:30 p.m.
No problem for EMS
Shelby County Assistance EMS Director Jeff Ivers said the mix-up did not affect EMS, because there were no runs in that area during that time period. But if there had been a medical call in the affected areas, emergency vehicles would not have run into a problem because there is a gravel service road for emergency vehicles to use.
Ivers said he contacted the Shelbyville Fire Department to let firefighters know about the situation.
He said that railroad officials usually notify Shelby County 911 dispatch, and then dispatchers spread the word around to police, the road department, public works and a few other departments. But some officials who are usually notified were not this time, they said.
The railroad sometimes has notified The Sentinel-News of closing so that alerts could be distributed, but that was not the case this time.
"I only found out about it this morning when I couldn't get across Kentucky Street," Shelby County Deputy County Judge-Executive Rusty Newton said.
Hardesty said that even though the railroad is “independent” and does not have to get permission to close a crossing, he made it clear to officials Wednesday that he didn’t appreciate what happened.
“The railroad has apologized for this, and they understand the severity of the problem; we made that clear,” he said. “I don’t see this happening again in the future.”