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The railroad tracks running behind Railroad Street Northwest.
Daily photo by Catherine Godbey
The railroad tracks running behind Railroad Street Northwest.

Hiding in plain sight

Location: Railroad tracks running behind Railroad Street Northwest.

Description: An icon of Decatur architecture, the Dancy-Polk house, borders an icon of the city's industrial growth, the railroad. While the Dancy-Polk house remains in pristine condition, the railroad and its surrounding property have overgrown grass and weeds, reaching over 5 feet high.

The weeds and grass camouflage the railroad tracks, create a dumpsite for trash and hide plastic hangers, paper sacks and coffee cups.

Property owner: Norfolk Southern Corp. owns the track that extends across the Tennessee River to where the track bisects at Vine Street Northwest. After the track splits, Norfolk Southern owns the northern track and CSX owns the southern track.

Frank Brown, Norfolk Southern's assistant vice president of corporate communications, said the company will have an employee inspect the overgrown property. The company's vegetation maintenance includes the application of herbicide and brush removal.

Ordinance: Decatur's weed, junk and litter ordinance requires owners to maintain their property's weeds and grass at a height no greater than 12 inches.

David Lee, code enforcement officer with Community Development, said federal law supersedes the city's weed, junk and litter ordinance.

Federal law mandates that railroads meet the standards of the Federal Railroad Administration. Warren Flatau, an FRA spokesman, said the law requires railroads to maintain vegetation along the tracks so as not to constitute a fire hazard, obstruct visibility or prevent employees from performing their duties.

Responsible officials: "Our city ordinance does not apply to the railroads," Lee said. "So we try to use the good-neighbor approach."

According to Lee, Community Development used the "good-neighbor approach" with CSX before with beneficial results. In response to complaints concerning CSX's property that spans from Fourth Avenue Southeast to Central Parkway and 14th Street Southwest to Second Street, the railroad hired a maintenance crew to maintain the area four times a year.

Let us know if you're tired of seeing a dilapidated building, litter, a drainage problem or an eyesore in your neighborhood. Contact Community Development's weed, junk and litter hot line at 341-4963. You can also contact the Daily newsroom at 340-2433 or

Catherine Godbey

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