Feds seek input on stopped, slow-moving trains

By RILEY GUERZINI
news@dcherald.com

The federal government is asking for public input on blocked railroad crossings.

The Federal Railroad Administration issued a Federal Register notice on June 14, asking the public for information regarding the frequency, location and impact of blocked railroad crossings by slow-moving or idling trains.

Public comment on the issue can be submitted to http://bit.ly/2XpoEkj.

The Federal Register notice lists specific concerns with emergency response vehicles being delayed by blocked crossings.

The FRA is also proposing to add new links to its website and its existing phone app for users to report blocked crossings.

“Hoosiers deserve a straightforward approach about information regarding blocked railroad crossings and I commend the Federal Railroad Administration’s willingness to work with all parties involved on this important issue,” U.S. Sen. Mike Braun said in a press release.

Antonia Flores, a manager at Brick Oven Pizza in Huntingburg, estimates that at least six trains pass by during her 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift at the pizza place.

She said delivery drivers for Brick Oven Pizza, which delivers as far away as Ferdinand, have waited as long as an hour for a train to pass.

“I know there was a couple of times we just remade [the pizza] because it was sitting there for so long,” she said.

Construction of a railroad overpass in Huntingburg on 14th Street was completed in November 2018. The overpass, which had been pursued for almost two decades, was built to help alleviate some of the problems with blocked crossings.

Christina Kitterman, a manager at Family Dollar in Huntingburg, said the overpass would be more effective if it was on U.S. 231 instead of 14th Street. She believes blocked railroad crossings have more of an affect on semitrailer drivers than they do on local traffic.

“For the semi-truck drivers, some of which are from out of town, they do not know that there is an overpass [on 14th Street],” she said.

Kitterman, who lives in Birdseye, said she has been delayed only a couple of times on her way to work because of a train. She said she can usually judge when they are going to come.

“The train doesn’t really affect me, and I don’t think it really affects any of the customers too much unless they’re from out of town,” Kitterman said.

A bill was introduced in the Indiana General Assembly this past legislative session that would require a railroad corporation to inform local law enforcement if a railroad crossing is blocked for more than 10 minutes. Law enforcement would then inform first responders to allow them to find another route. The bill never made it out of the Indiana House of Representatives.

A similar statute was struck down in the Indiana Supreme Court last year in State of Indiana v. Norfolk Southern Railroad Company, when the court ruled in favor of Norfolk Southern in a dispute over whether the railroad could be fined for blocking railroad crossings for more than 10 minutes.

Norfolk Southern took the state to court after the company was cited 23 times between December 2014 and December 2015 for violating the blocked-crossing statute near a train yard in Allen County.

The Supreme Court agreed with Norfolk Southern’s argument that the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act and the Federal Railroad Safety Act both preempt Indiana law. It ruled that Norfolk Southern would have to change several key railroad operations to comply with the statute, with no guarantee it would reduce time to less than 10 minutes.

An emailed statement from Norfolk Southern to The Herald said the organization “works with communities and customers to limit this issue, but at times it is unavoidable. We apologize for any inconvenience to the community.”

Huntingburg Police Chief Arthur Parks said it would be nice to be informed by the railroad companies if they were going to take more than 10 minutes.

“Before they put the overpass in on the west side, we would have emergency vehicles waiting for as long as 15 minutes,” he said. “We would have to contact dispatch to call the railroad companies and tell them to speed things up.”

Parks said they haven’t had any tragedy occur because emergency vehicles couldn’t get to the other side of the tracks.

He said one of the problems of the overpass is that it is located on the west side of Huntingburg, and those waiting at a crossing on the east side spend just as much time getting to the overpass as they do waiting for the train to pass.

“People will drive out to the overpass on the west side, but sometimes by the time they do that, the train is already through,” Parks said. “It’s just a matter of do you wait?”




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