May 14 Update here.
Buckingham Branch Railroad will close The Square to parking and storage of materials within the next 30 days to protect itself from liability and safety issues.
Virtually all the The Square is owned by CSX railroad, which leases it to Buckingham Branch Railroad. According to BBRR Vice President for Operations Gale Wilson, CSX’s property line extends 128 feet south from the center of the main track. That puts it about eight feet in front of the existing buildings. CSX granted the Virginia Department of Transportation a 40-foot easement for a road that extends from Crozet Avenue east to the Barnes Lumber Company property line. CSX also extends along the tracks very near the lumberyard’s warehouse buildings, he said.
Liability issues concerning The Square came to the BBRR’s attention recently when railroad employees working there were rudely cussed out by someone. Wilson declined to repeat what had been said.
“Some people told our people they didn’t have the right to be there,” he said politely. “We have a huge liability and safety issue on that property. We could be sued if something happened. Our only option is to eliminate the current use and use it for railroad uses only.”
Wilson said that the BBRR’s lease terms do not authorize it to make any other agreements about the use or transfer of CSX’s property. “Under current agreement, we don’t have the ability to lease or sell that property. CSX retains total rights,” he said. “BBRR does not have the ability to allow people to park there. We will close it off to parking until an agreement can be made.”
Wilson said the BBRR, for its part, could do without a 30-foot strip north of the VDOT easement and would agree to that with Albemarle County or a group of private business owners, but that it intends to retain exclusive use of the rest of The Square for railroad use. Wilson said the BBRR has not decided how to enforce the closure, whether by fencing it off or posting no trespassing notices, but both are possibilities. “I want to reinforce that we don’t have the authority to decide the use of this property,” he said. “We need access to the railroad for maintenance and train crews.
Wilson said the Crozet sidings and track access are critical to the BBRR, which leases CSX track between Richmond and Clifton Forge. ‘We have very limited sidings and so Crozet is very important to us and also to Amtrak,” he said. Relief crews often meet trains at Crozet, he said.
Wilson said he has talked with Albemarle County Board of Supervisors Chair Ann Mallek, who represents Crozet, about the problem and he has also informed CSX officials. He said he is not aware of any meetings being scheduled to resolve the closure. “We want to be good neighbors. That’s important to us.”
Seeking a way to improve parking in The Square, perhaps even paving and striping it, Parkway Pharmacy owner Brenda Plantz recently investigated ownership of the property and contacted the BBRR. Plantz said that when the pharmacy first opened it paid an annual fee to CSX for the right to use The Square for parking. In 1999, county officials told her to stop paying the fee.
“Apparently the county gave up the lease in 1999 after CSX sent it a letter saying it was not interested in continuing lease agreements,” said Mallek. “The county did not pursue the matter and people have continued to park there. This really speeds up our need for the parking lot where the new library will go and to open Oak Street [a platted right-of-way running north and south between Barnes Lumber Co. and the pharmacy building].”
Mallek said she will push county staff to give the issue immediate attention. She said she has been told that preliminary drawings necessary to open Oak Street have been prepared.
Plantz said she and Mallek met with Wilson at The Square last week to review the problem and that Wilson was horrified to watch as people crossed the tracks there on foot, a factor which may have increased the BBRR’s concern over liability. Two women were killed by an eastbound Amtrak train on the tracks next to Crozet Library about 10 years ago.