Parked trains keep blocking dead-end Nashville street, trapping ambulances, neighbors

“They’re just sitting with him on the stretcher, just waiting for the train to move so that they can leave,” Easton said.
WSMV4 Investigates' Stacey Cameron reports.
Published: Jun. 15, 2023 at 4:35 PM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - Earlier this spring, Jacob Easton walked out of his home on Sadler Avenue in South Nashville and saw an ambulance parked in the middle of the street.

While a neighbor sat on the stretcher, Easton noticed the paramedics were not loading the man into the back of the ambulance.

That’s when he said he looked up the avenue towards the railroad tracks and realized why EMS was not rushing to leave. A CSX train was parked on the tracks, blocking the Sadler Avenue crossing, and effectively trapping the ambulance on a dead-end street.

“They’re just sitting with him on the stretcher, just waiting for the train to move so that they can leave,” Easton said.

After about 20 minutes, Easton took out his cell phone and began recording, but the train began to slowly move. However, Easton said he has a phone full of pictures showing trains blocking the crossing.

While this was not a life-or-death emergency, Easton said trains block the crossing almost daily, sometimes stopping for two hours or longer.

“Multiple times a week. It’s a frequent occurrence,” said Easton. “And there’s no set time, no telling when it’s going to stop, day or night.”

He fears a train will eventually trap an ambulance with tragic consequences.

“There are people living in this neighborhood with kids,” Easton says. “I can’t imagine that. I mean it’s a huge liability.”

Sadler Avenue is the only way in and out of a neighborhood with more than three dozen homes. Levi Kennamer has lived on the street for two years and says he has seen ambulances get stuck by a train on at least two occasions.

“And they’re just sitting there and can’t do anything,” Kennamer said. “It’s been crazy. It’s dangerous.”

WSMV4 Investigates reviewed blocked rail crossing complaints filed with the Federal Railroad Authority over the past three years and discovered 68 reports of trains parking on the rails and blocking Sadler Avenue. According to those complaints, on 35 occasions those trains sat still for more than an hour.

“I’ve lost count of the number of times it’s been stopped here,” said James Dean, another Sadler Avenue resident. “I’ve also lost count of the number of times I’ve had to call my boss and tell him I’m going to be late because there’s another train blocking the road.”

But Sadler Avenue is not the only crossing in Nashville facing issues with trains parking on the tracks and blocking traffic. In reviewing FRA reports dating back to 2020, WSMV4 Investigates found 637 complaints of stopped trains in Nashville. According to those reports, 271 trains parked on the tracks for more than an hour, and 42 trains failed to move for an entire day.

“Trains think they come first, when trains really should be treated like everyone else,” said retired Congressman Jim Cooper.

During his time representing Nashville in Congress, Cooper tried taking on the railroads and passing legislation to penalize railroads that habitually park on the rails and block traffic.

“The railroads just laughed at us, like, you’ll never get that through, because we own Congress,” Cooper said.

But Cooper was successful in getting a bill by creating the FRA complaint database, which now requires railroads to report blocked crossings to the FRA.

“And that was designed to make them at least feel bad about what they were doing. Apparently, they’re not feeling bad enough,” said Cooper. “The only thing they’re really going pay attention to is Congress having the guts to make them behave, and Congress needs to do that.”

According to those FRA reports, the five Nashville crossings with the most train-blocking complaints are Douglas Avenue, Delmas Avenue, Scott Avenue, Fourth Avenue South and Sadler Avenue.

Highly traveled Douglas Avenue has recorded 125 blocked crossing complaints in the past three years, with the problem becoming so prevalent, a Facebook group called Is a Train Blocking Douglas? now exists with more than 930 members.

In that group, members frequently post pictures, giving dates and times when a train is parked at the crossing and when the street is clear.

But blocked crossings are not just a Nashville problem. WSMV4 identified 141 blocked crossing complaints in Williamson and Rutherford counties, and nationally, the state of Tennessee ranks fifth for the most blocked crossings since 2020 with 2,937 complaints according to the FRA.

In Nashville, CSX is the railroad most frequently identified in FRA blocked crossing complaints. Reporting for this story, WSMV4 Investigates did reach out to CSX, requesting an interview, wanting to ask questions about the situation on Sadler Avenue and whether the railroad is working to alleviate issues at other local crossings.

While CSX did not agree to go on camera, the railroad did issue a statement, saying in part:

“At CSX, we make every reasonable effort to ensure that our trains occupy grade crossings for the shortest time possible. CSX maintains open lines of communication with public safety partners to identify and determine how best to manage crossings where challenges exist, including providing 24/7 access to crossing information through our Public Safety Coordination Center (PSCC) that first responder agencies can leverage to aid in response planning.”

Regarding Sadler Avenue, CSX said it is making a direct investment in a project that the railroad is “confident” will provide a “permanent solution to the chronic issue at Sadler Avenue [that] will be implemented soon.” CSX also said that the company has “worked with the resident to try and minimize the impacts of operations.”

But that is news to Kennamer, who said CSX frequently ignores calls for help from people living on Sadler Avenue.

“We’ve been trying to ask can you at least give us a schedule,” said Kennamer. “The answer is, ‘No, we can’t give you a schedule,’ nothing.”

Dean, who lives less than a quarter of a mile from the Sadler Avenue crossing, said the problem has gotten so bad, several times a week people like himself will risk serious injury, climbing between the parked cars just to get home from work.

“I’m 6-foot-5, I’m a pretty tall guy, and I’ve busted my knees open just trying to get through it,” Dean said.

Easton said at least once a week he sees young kids making their way through the parked rail cars trying to leave the neighborhood or coming home from school.

“They’ll just climb under, or crawl over the train,” said Easton. “It’s insane that there’s no clear penalties or policy in place to separate the trains and at least create an opening for people to pass through after a certain amount of time.”

If you have experienced issues related to trains parking on rail crossings or witnessed a dangerous situation caused by a train stopped on the tracks, please email investigative reporter Stacey Cameron at