ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. - People in northern Roanoke County are concerned about their usually quiet mountain road. They say trash trucks have overtaken Bradshaw Road. They're going by their homes and farms on the way to the dump, all because the trash train is out of service.
Those people were promised in 1993 by the newly formed Roanoke Valley Resource Authority that they would never see trucks headed to the landfill unless there was some sort of emergency. Now, 25 years later, the emergency has come upon us and there is an even bigger crisis brewing.
In the Masons Cove part of Roanoke County they like their streets quiet and empty, but recently there's been a change.
"I've had quite a few calls personally just being their representative and they're concerned that there was a promise made that there wouldn't be on going truck traffic," Roanoke County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Martha Hooker said.
For the time being, trash is getting to the landfill by truck on Bradshaw Road. For 25 years it's come by train and that's worked well for all. Except for the fact that a one-of-a-kind rail gondola tipper used to unload the train by literally tipping railcars on their sides is broken and it puts a snag in the entire operation. Tuesday a number of neighbors came to the board meeting to present their concerns and asked the county for some sort of help.
"This could have been avoided, had there been proper maintenance, we're concerned. We're concerned about the ability of the road to handle the traffic, concerned about the safety and they're unhappy," Hooker said.
The Roanoke Valley Resource Authority said it had no choice but to truck for the time being and said by the original permit it's allowed to do so. It said the tipper won't be fixed until at least early 2019. Aside from that, there's still the question of the future of the trash train itself after Norfolk Southern announced the trash train "no longer meets its business model."
"Forty to sixty trucks, and these are large trucks that are very hard to maneuver on that road and so the concern is real, I share their concern," Hooker said.
Eventually, the trucks on Bradshaw Road will stop when the tipper is repaired, but how much longer the tipper is used after that is still uncertain. A recent study recommended that the authority do away with the trash train in favor of trucking it in because the group found trucking is less expensive and more reliable than the train due to added costs and maintenance. If it chooses to pursue trucking, the authority would rip up the rail spur line to the landfill and replace it with a paved road. It has already invested millions of dollars into equipment to facilitate that and has begun the road where it can.
The authority said it sees a clear correlation between Norfolk Southern's dwindling Roanoke presence and the two organizations' deteriorating relationship. The authority signed a five-year contract with Norfolk Southern for an undisclosed amount last summer to continue the trash train for now, but the contract does allow for cancelation by the authority. The authority's study found switching to trucks would save $40 million over the next 25 years.
The study also presented an option of bringing the trash in by train but in a different style container that does not require the use of the tipper. However, the resource authority said it has never achieved a price that it has deemed acceptable from Norfolk Southern for that option. Norfolk Southern told the authority that it could haul a much larger freight train with the same crew as compared to "shuttling" 10 to 15 cars to the landfill daily. The authority left it at that, not wanting to interpret it any further, but others in the community interpret it as the fact that Norfolk Southern can make more money doing something else with its resources.
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