Deteriorating railroad tracks in City claim a victim

Jennifer Niles

Submitted by

Susan Hardee Steger

“Does this town care?” asked 41 year old Jennifer Niles Massachusetts resident who sustained injuries after being “thrown out” of her wheelchair.  As Niles returned from the waterfront and crossed to Centre and North 2nd Streets, her wheelchair became lodged between the tracks and deteriorating railroad ties.  Just minutes before a train’s arrival, four men came to her rescue. Although grateful to those who helped, Niles is wondering how a city could allow unsafe railroad tracks in a major tourist area to remain in disrepair.

When the accident occured, Niles was returning from the Centre Street docks on her way to Salty Railroad Track Centre StreetPelican Bar & Grill, a popular eatery in downtown Fernandina Beach.  After the fall, Niles’ reaction was panic followed by concern for her well being having recently undergone spinal fusion surgery in her lower back.  Instead of an evening at Salty Pelican she returned to the hotel where she nursed a sore back and skinned knee.

Returning to the scene of the accident, Niles spoke of other areas of concern as she maneuvers  through the historic downtown.  There are  inclines exceeding the mandated American with Disability Act standard making travel downtown more challenging.  (A lawsuit filed by two individuals  in 1998, forced the City of Fernandina Beach and Nassau County to examine and improve accessibility.)  When asked for her opinion on how Fernandina rated on handicap accessibility Niles’ reply is , “Over all, Fernandina is  good.”

DSC00603Still shaken from her fall, Niles discusses the access to Salty Pelican Bar and & Grill, a place that Niles enjoys.  The path to the restaurant from Centre Street is an uneven mix of asphalt, concrete, and gravel.  Add to the challenge of arriving by wheelchair are cars parked in the pathway; some cars parked close to the tracks  causing difficulty for even a young capable Niles.

Prior to the opening of Salty Pelican in August of 2012, the City required the owners Al Waldis and T.J. Pelletier to build what has become know as the “Sidewalk to no where.” (Click for previous F O article.) According to Michael Mullin attorney for Salty Pelican, “My client relied upon the City’s staff’s representations that access would be provided from Centre Street to their property, and that, obviously, has not happened.”  Mullin’s letter was written December 20, 2012, and has given the City 90 days to “take every action necessary to accomplish the access.” (For previous story click here.)

It was thirteen years ago when Niles broke her back in a mountain bike accident.  Prior toSalty Pelican 002 the accident she was involved in real estate. Niles now works part time.  Her trip to Fernandina Beach was a reward to herself after a trying year of back surgery and recovery.  It was a friend who years ago introduced Niles to Fernandina Beach, and she immediately liked what she saw.  Niles eats in local restaurants, frequents retail shops, and has met many locals during her planned two month stay.

Niles appears bright, upbeat, and enthusiastic about life.  She seeks opportunities to explore the natural beauty of the island, recognizing there are  limitations. Now she is on a mission  to call attention in an appropriate professional manner, to access issues in Fernandina Beach that need attention.

March 7, 2013 6:33 p.m.


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10 years ago

Isn’t part of the Forward Fernandina project going to address Front Street improvements? Oh wait… never mind.

Gayle Rybicki
Gayle Rybicki(@gqrybickiyahoo-com)
10 years ago

Next we hear of Ms. Niles, it will be her filing a lawsuit against the city and RR.

Gerhardt Thamm
Gerhardt Thamm(@thammgbyahoo-com)
10 years ago

Does Fernandina care about being visitor friendly? Does Fernandina care? The proof is in the deteriorating railroad crossings, and the so indifferent waterfront.

Al (@guest_4697)
10 years ago

As one of the owners of The Salty Pelican Bar & Grill, I find it ironic that Ms. Niles has to maneuver around Patricia Toundas’ (Owner of the Marina Restaurant) SUV, and City Commissioner Charlie Corbett’s blue pick up truck to try and get to our place of business.

mike spino
mike spino (@guest_4715)
10 years ago

Short answer: No, the city does not care.

Marlene Chapman
Marlene Chapman(@crew2120)
10 years ago

I have been in communication with the city and railroad for 3 years now since a diving accident left our 23 year old daughter paralyzed and in a wheelchair. I have spoken to Al at the Salty Pelican and other around town. No one can understand why this situation has not been taken care! We rely on tourism for a great deal of this island’s livelyhood….when will someone step up to the plate and get things done? Someone previoulsy mentioned not hearing from people until they file a lawsuit??? Well, all I can say to the uninformed….spend just one day, no, just one hour in a wheelchair trying to do what you take for granted each and everyday….then talk to me!

Randy McGee
Randy McGee (@guest_18212)
10 years ago

Have the railroad and the mill share the cost of a handicap crossing at the intersection of centre st. One of those nice finished crossings. Then curb the street side of the tracks from centre st to the mill