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Idea might smooth railroad dispute in downtown Rock Hill

A group studying how to relieve train blockages in central Rock Hill has come up with two ideas it hopes will satisfy neighbors worried about potential changes.

The scenario being explored would save a popular neighborhood crossing that had been slated for closure and add landscaping along a residential stretch where trains park to add and remove freight cars.

With these compromises, city officials hope neighbors would be more willing to accept a sidetrack extension that would bring trains closer at certain times of day.

The extension is needed to reduce train blockages in downtown.

No decisions have been reached, and group members say they plan more public hearings before concluding their work.

"This looks like the best plan that I've seen yet," said group member Tom Hardin.

"So far, the (neighbors) I've talked to are very much in favor. Nobody seems to think they have a better plan."

An earlier proposal to close the Community Street crossing sparked an outcry from Aragon Mill homeowners worried about losing a key entrance to their neighborhood.

The new scenario would preserve Community Street, but the crossing would be reconfigured to improve safety and traffic flow.

"That's the one they (residents) want to remain," said Leslie Moma, president of the Aragon Mill neighborhood association. "If there was only one crossing, Community Street is the one they would choose."

Norfolk Southern officials said they are willing to preserve the crossing at Community Street, a stance that surprised York County Councilman Chad Williams, who represents the area.

"I didn't even know it was an option," Williams said. "I didn't know it was something they would even consider. I was probably as encouraged as I've ever been after the last meeting."

The city would plant trees, shrubs and flowers to spruce up areas around the tracks and provide a buffer against train noise.

Josh Gray said he's not sure how neighbors will react to the new ideas.

"It's definitely worth taking a look at," said Gray, president of the Industrial Mill neighborhood association. But Gray added, "Nobody in the neighborhood is wild about adding tracks."

Downtown boosters want an end to the blocked intersections caused by long lines of stopped freight cars.

They support a plan to shift train-switching operations away from downtown and closer to a pair of older mill neighborhoods off Dave Lyle Boulevard.

Neighbors fear the outcome will shift the problem of long blockages toward their homes.

Many residents voiced worries over a planned sidetrack extension that would bring trains closer to the center of the neighborhood. But group members found that trains would stay parked only for 30 minutes to an hour, and loud switching operations would take place away from homes.

Under the latest scenario, the city would stick with its plan to close an unsafe crossing at Mill Street, and add a new, safer version at Quantz Street, less than a half-mile away.