Public can report when trains block intersections


HUNTINGBURG — Anyone who feels like a train sits on the tracks blocking a street intersection for too long can log a complaint online.

The Federal Railroad Administration has a feature on its website where people can select the blocked intersection on a map and register the complaint:

A person selects a specific crossing on a map and fills out a complaint about the blocked intersection. Law enforcement officers also have a specific complaint form they can fill out.

Huntingburg Mayor Denny Spinner shared the site with the Huntingburg Common Council Tuesday night and encouraged the public to use it.

“That would go to the FRA to document that these events are happening,” he said. “What happens from this is yet to be seen. But there is at least this reporting mechanism.”

Councilman Glen Kissling noted that a few years ago, he found an average of 27 trains come through Huntingburg each day. Spinner said that is still about the average.

Spinner learned that the FRA recently established a site for complaints. He believes it could be the result of the findings by the U.S. Government Accountability Office that trains are getting longer, as well as a letter and resolution from the National League of Cities citing concerns about lengthy trains blocking intersections more often in cities across the country.

“I found this report [by the Government Accountability Office] to be very interesting. It clearly shows that it’s not just happening here,” Spinner told the council. “We’re not an isolated situation.“

Spinner attended the National League of Cities’ conference and its transportation committee meeting, of which he is a member, during the NLC’s conference in San Antonio in November. The report was reviewed then.

The report stated that average train lengths have increased about 25% since 2008, with average train lengths being 1.2 to 1.4 miles in 2017. According to the report, “One railroad says it runs a three-mile long train twice weekly.”

The railroad train horn rule was also discussed at the conference because it pertains to noise levels as they are associated with the frequency and length of trains, Spinner explained.

“[The NLC] is asking that the Federal Railroad Administration adopt new technologies and reasonable exemptions to the train horn rule,” Spinner said, “and to have a clearer process for which cities like Huntingburg could appeal to have an amendment to that rule.”

A resolution concerning train lengths and horn noise was passed by the National League of Cities and sent to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and its Subcommittee on Transportation and Safety, as well as to the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and its Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials. It was accompanied by a letter signed by 62 members of the league, including Spinner.

“Congress should take steps to ensure FRA increases their safety oversight under existing rules, reevaluates the Train Horn Rule, decreases barriers for local communities to establish quiet zones, and ensures safety at highway-rail grade crossings,” the letter reads, “as well as uses their convening power to address national rail needs such as blocked crossings.”

Council members said that the city is fortunate to have Progress Parkway which is the railroad overpass road. Spinner said it especially came in handy recently when a train sat on the tracks in the city for at least an hour. Those who were fortunate to not get caught in the line of traffic could change routes to go over to the overpass.

Spinner feels like there is an increased awareness on the national level about the struggle communities are enduring because of intersections being blocked by trains. And he hopes that people do log in a complaint when a train does block an intersection.

“It doesn’t really relieve the frustration for people who are sitting in traffic at the time,” he said. “But does anybody know? Does anybody care? At least this is a way to let the federal agency that regulates train travel know that we are reporting it. And it’s a way for us to document the number of incidents and where this is happening.”

The council also:

• Approved writing off for 2019 $18,440 in unpaid, overdue utility bills from its books. The unpaid balances will still be pursued, City Attorney Phil Schneider said.

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