While Indiana law prohibits trains from blocking public railroad-highway grade crossings for more than 10 minutes, the law unfortunately has very little authority when it comes to enforcement.
For residents of Warsaw and Claypool, that will not come as welcome news.
According to Indiana law, a railroad corporation is not permitted to have any train obstruct public railroad crossings for more than 10 minutes “except where such train, railroad car or engine cannot be moved by reason of circumstances over which the railroad corporation has no control.”
David Pidgeon, public relations manager for Norfolk Southern, said circumstances of why trains may block crossings can include track maintenance issues, mechanical problems, track obstructions and even crew changes. “But we’re in the business of moving and delivering freight so we like to keep the trains moving. When they are moving we’re making money,” he added.
Lately, residents near and motorists who utilize CR 350 North in Warsaw can argue that Norfolk Southern isn’t in the business of moving. In the past few weeks, complaints have been aired that a lot of trains have been blocking the Norfolk Southern crossing at CR 350 North for excessively long periods of time.
Linda Novotny of Warsaw said, “(Wednesday) it was blocked three separate times for well over an hour, up to 2 hours at a time. (I) hope it’s not blocked if anyone that’s hurt, sick, had an accident etc. is on the opposite side of an emergency vehicle trying to get through. It’s ridiculous how often and how long it’s blocked.”
And her sentiments are shared by many others. Jason Wood of Warsaw said, “It’s all the time. I’m glad I don’t live that way anymore. It’s been going on for too long.”
Robert Moore lives out by Chapman Lake and added, “… this has been going for over 10 years. I have lived on the north side of Chapman Lake for 15 years and the sad thing is, if we need EMS or fire rescue, it’s going to delay them and could cost someone their life.”
Heather Whitaker is a school bus driver for Warsaw Community Schools and said, “It sucks when your a bus driver and every afternoon there’s trains blocking the crossing up north!”
And the complaints don’t end. From moms who are trying to get from the east side of SR 15 to the elementary schools on the west side to pick up their children after school, to those just trying to get home after a long day of work, the excessive blocking is taking its toll.
“I work at Dave’s Car Care on 350, just down from the tracks. The train was stopped around 4:30 p.m. and still not moving when I left at 5:30 p.m. (Wednesday),” said Melissa Frederick. “Please let us know if there is anything we an do to stop this. It really hurts our business and makes delivery of parts very complicated!”
Although Sgt. Chad Hill of the Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Department said he has not yet heard from anyone in the department if they have been hindered by the blocked crossings when trying to respond to emergency situations, he did say, “Of course it’s a possibility. There’s always that risk of going the wrong way to find the next (open) crossing and delaying response times, but so far I haven’t heard of any problems.”
The issue was first addressed by StaceyPageOnline.com on Jan. 30 (See story). Noting two separate incidents back then, Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer contacted Norfolk Southern’s manager of government relations who said then that the trains experienced two separate emergencies which required them to stop in the same area, which was again CR 350 North. “He said it was two times but there shouldn’t be any other reason to stop, so hopefully it won’t happen again,” Thallemer said in January.
But the crossing blockages have continued, and according to many, they are becoming more frequent and more problematic.
Several residents near the CR 350 North crossing have been logging just how often the crossing is blocked. On Wednesday of this week, a train blocked it from 1:30 p.m. to 2:42 p.m. and again from 4:50 p.m. to at least 7:10 p.m.
On March 19, the same crossing was blocked before 3 p.m. to after 4 p.m.; March 18, from 9:30 p.m. to after 10 p.m.; March 14, from 8:45 p.m. until 10 p.m.; and on March 2, from 2:45 p.m. until after 4 p.m.
Dean Abbott of Warsaw noted that CR 350 North is not the only crossing that is often blocked by stopped trains. “They have been blocking Levi Lee Road, too,” he said.
Shanna Atteberry who lives just north of Warsaw added, “My son had to miss his therapy appointment cause the therapist got blocked in by too many cars (waiting on the train) and didn’t have room to wiggle his car out and drive around. In the 5 months I’ve lived here, I’m SO over the north/south train tracks. I have lived on the east/west tracks between here and Columbia City and have never seen anything as ridiculous as here.”
The problem also occurs in the southern part of the county near Sidney and Claypool. Renee Dhonau said, “The train that runs through Sidney on 13 South always stops, it could be a few minutes to a few hours.”
Friday morning, the Warsaw Community Schools bus garage was informed by the railroad that CR 200 West and CR 400 West crossings would both be closed for several hours. No explanation was provided.
On Friday, Pidgeon said he was not able to comment on the reasons why the trains are blocking the crossings so frequently and for such long amounts of time, but promised to look into it and report back to StaceyPageOnline.com. So far, he has not responded.
Again, while state law prohibits the trains from blocking the tracks, the excuses provided by the engineer or conductor will never have law enforcement being able to ticket them.
According to Indiana law, “A railroad corporation, conductor, or engineer who violates this chapter commits a Class C infraction. However, no conductor or engineer acting under the rules or orders of the railroad corporation or its supervisory personnel may be prosecuted for such a violation.”