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13Investigates: State rep says he's no longer considering introducing bill for blocked train crossing in Juliette

In September, Rep. Dale Washburn said he would meet with Norfolk Southern. Five months later, he says he's made only one call to the railroad.

JULIETTE, Ga. — It's been five months since Representative Dale Washburn said he planned to introduce a bill to solve Juliette's often blocked train crossing.

Norfolk Southern trains stall on the tracks weekly and sometimes daily for minutes to even hours.

13Investigates reported on this story last fall, showing how the headache caused a public-safety problem that delayed life-saving medical attention.

With this legislative session set to end this month, Washburn has not filed a bill -- and now it's too late to pass a bill that could pass this year.

So, 13Investigates' Ashlyn Webb followed up with the state representative and asked what's the holdup.

Rep. Washburn says he no longer plans to introduce a bill.

He stood by his statement in October saying Norfolk Southern blocking the crossing is a problem.

People in the small town of Juliette say they're still wrestling with the train problem.

"It hasn't changed," said Kathy Dean.

"Still blocking the tracks for hours. Even just this morning, it was blocked," said Andrea Goolsby.

Since our story in October, Norfolk Southern trains have blocked this crossing at least 40 times, according to the Federal Railroad Administration's database.

In that time, dozens of people reported the crossing being blocked for anywhere from 15 minutes to more than six hours.

"They need to come up with a solution to stop it," Goolsby said.

Rep. Washburn told 13WMAZ he planned to introduce a bill limiting the time a train can block the tracks to 15 minutes or requiring the railroad company to pull the train cars apart.

But after five months, he says he has no draft.

"I have investigated that, but the news is not good. I had a long conversation, today actually, had to prepare for our interview. With Rick Jasperse who is the chairman of the Georgia House Transportation Committee," Washburn said. "He says there's nothing we can do that the railroad owns the railroad. They own the access to the railroad, which is the crossing, and he says there is nothing we can do but ask for their help."

30 of the 50 states have laws limiting trains from blocking crossings for more than 10 or 15 minutes.

"So why is it that other states have laws on the book and Georgia can't?" 13WMAZ's Ashlyn Webb asked.

"I do not know the answer to that," Washburn said.

We spoke to the House Transportation Committee Chair, Rick Jasperse, by phone. He claims the other states' laws won't stand. He says an Ohio court ruled in August that states can't prosecute railroads because federal law overrules state law.

Now, Ohio and 18 other states are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear that case.

Washburn said in September that he planned to meet with Norfolk Southern.

"We need to ask the question and start talking to leadership," Washburn said then.

So, did Washburn ever try to talk solutions with Norfolk Southern?

Washburn: "No.. actually, I called, but I didn't get a callback."

13WMAZ: "How many calls?

Washburn: "I don't know that I called them several times, but I did call, and I do know my contact with them. Now, I don't have extensive contacts with Norfolk Southern."

13WMAZ: "So, just one call?"

Washburn: "I called the one person I knew to call. To be fair, I did not call repeatedly. I did not hear back."

13WMAZ: "Is it that big of a problem to your district then if you only call them once?"

Washburn: 'Well, I mean, I've made a call and didn't hear back from them. I'm trying to be responsive."

We let people in Juliette hear Washburn's answers.

"That is totally not responsive. You work for us, the people in Monroe County and Jones County that elected you to help your constituents. You don't work for Norfolk Southern," Goolsby said.

"I'm so emotional, it's hard to organize my thoughts. I'm so emotional about this," Dean said.

"All we have to do is follow the money trail. Money talks in more ways than one," Goolsby said.

13WMAZ pulled Washburn's campaign contribution reports. They didn't mention Norfolk Southern.

But the railroad company reports that they gave Washburn two $500 checks in 2021 and 2022, totaling a thousand dollars.

Senator John Kennedy, who also represents Juliette, received $1,250 in the last two years. Transportation Chairman Rick Jasperse, who told us the bill wouldn't stand in court, received $1,500.

"A $500 contribution is not keeping me from dropping legislation that would help the system in Juliette," Washburn said.

"Do you think that money is swaying anybody on the transportation committee?" 13WMAZ asked.

"I would not expect that it is," Washburn replied.

But Dean said, "Once you accept money from somebody, you're partisan, whether you really are or not, it looks that way and to make everything above board. You don't have anything to do with it, and you tell your constituents someone else will have to deal with Norfolk Southern because they support my candidacy."

People in Juliette who deal with the blocked crossing say while politicians get a check, they're paying the price.

"It takes me an extra 30 minutes to go around. So I'm paying for gas to drive 30 minutes plus my time," Dean said.

"We're sick of the excuses. We want a solution. Now... Yesterday...Two years ago when I reached out to Dale," Goolsby said.

Washburn says he believes there are no legislative solutions to the problem, but he suggested building an overpass in Juliette. He says that could cost around $10 million.

Rep. Jasperse told 13WMAZ that's just not in the state's budget and he suggested local government needs to devise a solution.

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