JACKSONVILLE, Florida. – A local mother was taking her sick daughter to Wolfson Children’s Hospital last week when she was stranded by a train in San Marco for 27 minutes.
“If it was something more emergent, she would be dead,” Ray O’Steen said.
Over the years, the trains slowly crossing San Marco Boulevard, Hendricks Avenue and Atlantic Boulevard – which collectively are known as the “San Marco Train” – have made thousands of people late for work, to meetings and appointments over the years. .
It’s a problem the City of Jacksonville and other stakeholders have been working to address, but relief could still take years.
O’Steen said it was something she had thought about after years of living in Jacksonville – the train stopping someone on the way to one of the hospitals in an emergency.
But last week she said it happened to her when her toddler struggled to breathe in the backseat.
“All I could do…I cried and prayed,” O’Steen said.
This can make an emergency situation worse.
O’Steen said she rushed her 19-month-old daughter to Jacksonville Beach Hospital on Thursday morning only to find herself stuck in stationary traffic on the Interstate 95 exit at Mary Street, just around the corner of Wolfson Children’s Hospital.
“It was one way with concrete walls,” she said.
Meanwhile, her toddler was in the backseat, panting, hissing and struggling to breathe.
The train can be seen crawling in a video recorded by O’Steen and shared with News4JAX.
“The train is moving at a snail’s pace,” she said in the video. “I was stuck on the exit ramp for 25 minutes on my way to the hospital with my sick baby.”
“I kept thinking, this should pass soon,” O’Steen told News4JAX on Tuesday. “It’s about to end soon, but over time I finally called my husband back and told him my hands were tied.”
After 27 minutes, she arrived at the hospital, where her baby spent the night with what was either asthma or a chest infection.
Wolfson Children’s Hospital is just one part of the Baptist Health complex that faces train roadblocks.
“It’s absurd that trains are allowed to go through downtown Jacksonville at snail’s speed when there are hospitals scattered along the way,” O’Steen said.
Jacksonville City Councilwoman LeAnna Cumber, who represents the San Marco area and is also a mayoral candidate, said the city is working with the railroads and other partners to address the issue.
“There is a solution,” Cumber said. “There is a fully funded solution that I launched several years ago.”
She said a $35 million project is underway to add new tracks at a rail yard to avoid safeguards that leave trains on the tracks in San Marco, with the money coming from several different agencies , including about $900,000 from the city.
“Why can’t the railway tracks be moved? There are freight lines that have to go from place to place to get our goods there. Those lines have been there for…it was Henry Flagler’s Railroad…so those lines have been there for, you know, well over 100 years,” Cumber said.
Cumber said there was also no limit on the length of trains, and local governments had no power to regulate railways. It’s up to the federal government to decide.
As for O’Steen, his prayer now is that others will not be prevented from receiving life-saving treatment because of a train.
“It’s just not right,” she said. “Not when there are children and anyone, anyone with health and lives on the table.”
Councilor Cumber estimates the project will be completed in 2024. This will not stop trains from crossing the area, but she said it will stop them sitting on the tracks on the south side of the river.
News4JAX has contacted Florida East Coast Railroad, which owns the tracks, about the matter, but has yet to receive a response.
Baptist Health said it was crucial to have more access points at their hospitals in San Marco. They say they are also working with other stakeholders on solutions.
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