Hundreds of signatures on an online petition and a steady stream of emails stretching back months show that many Apex residents are angry about the downtown train station.
The Town Council may be poised to take action now to rectify the problem. Councilman Scott Lassiter said he will ask the rest of the council to direct town staff to look into buying the train station from CSX.
The company is the biggest East Coast railroad, running about 170,000 cars of freight each year in North Carolina alone.
For now, Lassiter said, the plan is still in its infant stage. He said he doesn’t have a specific idea of what the town would do with the land, nor does he know how much it might cost.
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But, he said, it doesn’t cost anything to ask.
“It’s a very preliminary plan,” he said. “It’s something we kicked around a little bit, and there is some need for more parking downtown. And in the not-too-distant future there will be a need to expand the town campus, too, whether it’s a senior center or other activities.”
John Dillard, CSX’s director of state government affairs, said Monday in an email that the company is open to the discussion.
“There is a precedent for such a project in North Carolina,” Dillard wrote. He said CSX did a similar project in 2013 by moving a train yard out of downtown Greenville.
“The total cost of that project was $9.7 million, with the majority of the funding from state and federal sources,” said Dillard, who is based in South Carolina. City funds also were used for the Greenville project.
Apex Mayor Bill Sutton said Lassiter hadn’t briefed him yet on his plans. But Sutton said he agrees that CSX needs to leave downtown, and that Apex could benefit from having another property close to Town Hall.
“We need more land around our campus,” he said. “As the town continues to grow we’ll need a new town annex for offices, more land for a new parking garage.”
A train idled Thursday night and Friday morning, wrote resident John Pearson in an email, who added train horns were heard around 5 a.m.
“I have lived in Apex 26 years and have never seen anything like the last two years,” Pearson wrote in an email to Dillard. “Broken promises, failed technologies that just don’t work, unsupervised employees, and on and on. You will not try anything new because it will cost you money.”
“It’s been hell down here for the last year and a half since CSX started this night shift,” Joe Howard, another resident, wrote July 8 to Dillard.
Howard wrote that he barely got any sleep the night before because of the constant rumbling. He said it was a recurring problem.
Dillard replied to that July 8 email, sending the upset residents a link to report complaints.
“I understand the frustration and am continuing to make our operating team, at all levels, aware of specific complaints and issues as they arise,” Dillard said.
Complaints about the trains built up this winter, when they idled all night to keep the diesel engines from freezing up. The idling has continued into the spring and summer, despite the warm temperatures.
“There seems to be some disconnect between CSX management and their employees on the ground, with idling or blasting the horn more than they need to, things like that,” Lassiter said.
Dillard previously said that the majority of noisy switching operations have been moved outside of town. He said Monday that CSX last communicated with the town in April.
Finding a new home
As the complaints continue rolling in, Lassiter said, he hopes the rest of the council agrees with his plan to consider the idea of buying the station. The trains would continue to use the rails in downtown, but the switching operations would be moved elsewhere.
He said if the switching station is outside of town, businesses and residents wouldn’t suffer as much from noise, and traffic stoppages would be less frequent.
Lassiter said CSX could benefit, too, because the company could potentially make more money selling the downtown spot than it would spend buying a new property outside of town.
Several have suggested moving the switching station to rural Bonsal, an unincorporated town on the Wake-Chatham county border between New Hill and Moncure. Bonsal is also home to the North Carolina Railway Museum.
Sutton has asked Dillard about that option in the past but was unsuccessful. The Town Council also voted unanimously in December to send a strongly worded letter to various federal and elected officials, asking for CSX to be a better neighbor.
Sutton said he hadn’t heard of any action being taken since the letter was written.
“They’re the railroad,” he said. “So in the pecking order, they’re above us.”
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran