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Woman rushing daughter to hospital says she was stranded behind infamous ‘San Marco Train’


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A local mother was rushing her sick daughter to Wolfson Children’s Hospital last week when she was she was left stranded by a train in San Marco for 27 minutes.

“If it were something more emergent, she would be dead,” Ray O’Steen said.

Over the years, trains slowly passing across San Marco Boulevard, Hendricks Avenue and Atlantic Boulevard — which, collectively, have come to be known as the “San Marco Train” — have made thousands of people late to work, meetings and appointments over the years.

It’s a problem the city of Jacksonville and other stakeholders have been working to address but relief may still be years away.

O’Steen said it’s something she’d 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 as her toddler was struggling to breathe in the backseat.

“All I could do…I cried and I prayed,” O’Steen said.

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It can make an emergency situation even worse.

Ray O’Steen says she rushed her 19-month-old daughter to the hospital from Jacksonville Beach Thursday morning only to be left trapped in standstill traffic due to a train in San Marco. (Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4Jax – All rights reserved.)

O’Steen said she rushed her 19-month-old daughter to the hospital from Jacksonville Beach on Thursday morning only to be left trapped in standstill traffic on the offramp from Interstate 95 to Mary Street, just around the corner from Wolfson Children’s Hospital.

“It was a one-way with concrete walls,” she said.

Meanwhile, her toddler was in the backseat, panting, wheezing and struggling to breathe.

The train can be seen crawling in a video O’Steen recorded and shared with News4JAX.

“The train is going at a snail’s pace,” she said in the video. “I’ve been stuck on the off-ramp for 25 minutes to get to the hospital with my sick baby.”

“I kept thinking, it’s bound to pass soon,” O’Steen told News4JAX on Tuesday. “It’s bound to end soon, but as time went on I finally called my husband back and said my hands are tied.”

After 27 minutes she arrived at the hospital, where her baby stayed the night with what was either asthma or a lung infection.

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Wolfson Children’s Hospital is just one part of the Baptist Health complex that faces roadblocks from trains.

“This is absurd that trains are allowed to go through downtown Jacksonville at a snail’s pace when there are hospitals scattered around the road,” O’Steen said.

Jacksonville Councilwoman LeAnna Cumber, who represents the San Marco area and is also running for mayor, said the city is working with the railroads and other partners to address the issue.

“There is a solution,” Cumber said. “There’s a fully-funded solution that I spearheaded several years ago.”

She said a $35 million project is underway to add new tracks at a railyard to prevent backups that leave trains sitting 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 railroad tracks be moved? There are freight lines that need to go from one place to another to get our goods there. These lines have been here for…this was Henry Flagler’s railroad…so these lines have been here for, you know, well over 100 years,” Cumber said.

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Cumber said there’s no limit on the length of trains either and local governments don’t have the authority to regulate railroads. That’s up to the federal government.

As for O’Steen, her prayer now is that others aren’t kept from lifesaving care because of a train.

“It’s just not okay,” she said. “Not when there’s kids and anybody, anybody with health and lives on the table.”

Councilwoman Cumber estimates the project will be completed in 2024. It won’t stop trains from coming through the area, but she said it will keep them from just sitting on the tracks on the south side of the river.

News4JAX reached out to the Florida East Coast Railroad, which owns the tracks, about this but have not yet heard back.

Baptist Health said having more access points to their hospitals in San Marco is crucial. They say they’re also working with other stakeholders on solutions.

Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4Jax – All rights reserved.

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