Town, Business Owners Say CSX Railroad Is Not A Good Neighbor

Smithfield town officials say the north-south railroad line through Smithfield acts as a earthen dam, preventing water from flowing eastward and away from homes and businesses in major storm events. The Town says CSX has failed to maintain drainage pipes under the railroad tracks. Town of Smithfield Photo

CSX Accused Of Not Maintaining Drainage Pipes Under Railroad Tracks, Flooding Nearby Businesses

In October 2016, torrential rains from Hurricane Matthew caused extensive flooding in Johnston County. One of the hardest hit areas was the 1500 block of South Brightleaf Boulevard in Smithfield where two adjacent warehouses were flooding.   Former town councilman and owner of Oxbay LLC, Perry Harris sustained $2.7 million in uninsured losses when 3 feet of floodwaters entered his warehouse.  Harris said it forced him out of business. He also lost his lake home due to the tremendous financial loss.

Next door, Brian Barefoot at Atlantic Resources Incorporated at 1515 South Brightleaf Boulevard had in excess of $1 million in damage when his warehouse flooded.  Barefoot said most of his equipment and inventory were not fully covered by insurance.

In July 2019, an overnight thunderstorm dumped 5 inches of rainfall in just a few hours.  Both warehouses again experienced flooding issues.  In both instances, the businessmen and the Town of Smithfield blame CSX Railroad for the problem.

CSX  Railroad has just over 9 miles of railway and 5.8 miles of railroad right-of-way within the Smithfield town limits. The north-south rail line which sits between Highway 301 (Brightleaf Boulevard) and Interstate 95 creates what town officials call a manmade earthen dam for storm water flowing from Smithfield into its natural tributaries to the Neuse River. When the water can’t cross under the railroad tracks through storm drains it backs up. In both cases, the drainage pipes couldn’t handle the volume of storm water runoff and backed up, flooding the warehouses.   Town officials says CSX railroad has not been a good neighbor and has refused to cooperate.

“It’s a sad day when the railroad doesn’t want to be a good citizen,” Mr. Harris told JoCoReport. “Basically they don’t have to abide by any rules other than their own. They have their own police force and you can’t go on their property. They only do things to suit themselves. It’s a sad situation and they are not trying to help.”

At issue is a 54 inch drainage pipe under the railroad and behind the two warehouses.  A 1985 Town of Smithfield Storm Water Study called for the 54 inch pipe to be upgraded to two 72 inch pipes among other improvements. Thirty-four years later, the work has never been done.  Since 2016, the Town has renewed efforts to get CSX to enlarge the drainage pipe but no action has been taken by the railroad.

“They choose to do nothing, “Harris said. The cost to replace the pipe is $240,000.  Harris said CSX won’t even allow the Town or a private contractor on their property to do the work. “It would set a precedent for them and they would be forced to let other people in other areas alleviate flood waters. They have a 120 to 130 foot swath that runs through Smithfield and all of Johnston County. They do nothing. ”

This is a photo of a 54 inch drainage pipe going under CSX railroads tracks in the 1500 block of South Brightleaf Boulevard. Town officials and nearby business owners say CSX is not maintaining the drainage pipe by cleaning out debris. Officials say they have asked CSX to enlarge the drainage pipe from 54 to 72 inches. The railroad has not responded to their repeated requests. Town of Smithfield Photos

Brian Barefoot agrees. “There is one drain between Wal-Pat Road and Brogden Road.  That’s where the water runs to.  The railroad is causing a damming effect.  That’s what’s causing the flooding.  We spoke to the railroad after Hurricane Matthew and they said it was an act of God.”

The Town of Smithfield has tried to assist.  In February 2017, town staff cleaned out the 54 inch drainage pipe under the railroad tracks but were later threatened with possible legal action if that happened again. Town employees were trespassing on railroad property and reportedly told legal action would be taken if they returned.

Town Manager Mike Scott said CSX refuses to have an ongoing maintenance program to prevent debris from being carried by storm water into its storm water pipes and ditches, decreasing or eliminating storm water flow.  CSX has reportedly agreed to consider requests, but no action has ever been taken.

Frustrated with the lack of action, or even acknowledging the concerns, the Smithfield Town Council adopted a resolution in August “admonishing CSX Railroad for their indifference to storm water issues and maintenance on their properties and in their right of ways.”

The resolution asks CSX Corporation to replace the 54 inch drainage pipe with a 72 drainage pipe and to take action to prevent future flooding including a “normal and routine maintenance program.”  Officials said the railroad has caused substantial damage to the Town of Smithfield and its residence and continues to do so.

JoCoReport attempted to reach CSX for a comment. No one from the company responded to our repeated emails.