Cresent News

February 25, 2001

Napoleon - Trains are a vital part of today's economy and are key in the transportation of goods as well as people across the country. Their presence is seen, heard and felt daily in northwest Ohio.

But while this massive network of transportation is utilized to take care of the needs of Americans, the safety needs overall are not met for those driving or walking over the thousands of track crossings.

Train accidents in rural areas is a serious problem that needs to be addressed in Henry County as well as nationwide. Yet the cost to maintain and upgrade railroad crossings is extremely high, which is why half of all the railroad crossings in Henry County, outside the villages and city, are simply marked with crossbuck signs.

To combat the hazards of unsafe railroad crossings, county commissioners appointed 13 people last October to serve on a railroad safety task force. The group, which is made up of township trustees along with county Engineer Randy Germann, Sheriff John Nye, Commissioner Richard Bennett, and county EMS representatives Nancy Hatfield and Tim Phillips, recently started meeting to decide what steps they will take to determine which railroad crossings are in need of the most attention and how the problems will be fixed.

"Eventually, every county will have to set up a (railroad safety) task force," said Germann, chairman of the task force.

Just days before commissioners set up their task force, Senate Bill 207 that directly relates to railroad crossing safety took effect. The bill "creates new offenses and imposes a mandatory fine of $l,000 for railroads that obstruct streets and requires those fines to be paid to the county or city where the offense occurred. The bill also requires each board of county commissioners to establish a railroad grade crossing improvement fund."

This fund, Germann said, is what the county will be able to use to improve and upgrade crossings around the county. But before these funds can be used, there are some things that must take place.

One is surveying and studying the county's 77 railroad crossings to determine which ones are in need of the most repair or upgrades. There are some crossings that are blocked by the overgrowth of brush and foliage; other crossings have gates that do not work properly.

That is where the railroad safety task force comes into play. While members are still learning about their duties, they have a vision for what they can, and would like to, accomplish.

Germann said one of the major problems in the county of which he is aware is the blockage of crossings, where one train has to sit and wait for another train to go by. "This causes delays and it is also a hazard for emergency vehicles," Germann said.

Unsure of the difficulties railroads are facing these days, Germann thought maybe cars on a long train could be detached so the train cars do not block crossings and allow traffic to go by.

"We are looking at getting more lights and gates," he said.

Hatfield, Henry County EMS chairman, said she is ready to get to work. "I think this is a great thing we are doing. We can save so many lives."

Being an EMT for the county and having been on many emergency rescue runs in the past 20 years, Hatfield has experienced firsthand the extreme frustration of blocked railroad crossings. "When you're waiting for a train, five minutes is an hour when your loved one is waiting for an ambulance."

Hatfield is also eager to get more warning lights and gates installed around the county. Of the car-train accidents she could remember, she couldn't think of one that was at an intersection that was equipped with either of these warning devices.

Hatfield said she will "find it very interesting to really look at the crossings: to find out what they are really like. When crossing them on a regular basis, "you don't always notice the dangers."

The safety of the children in Henry County is also a priority of Hatfield's. She said there have been many times when trains have been stopped in town before and after school hours, at least preventing some students from getting to classes on time.

So they aren't late, "Kids crawl under them," Hatfield said. "How many lives are we going to have to lose before something is done? Everything is on a schedule. Why can't they schedule times for the trains to not be on the tracks? Hatfield asked.

Living and working in Hamler, Phillips, county EMS board chairman, said train traffic "has better than tripled when they (the railroads) set up a second track a year ago." He expects traffic to increase even more in the near future.

Phillips sees problems with gates and signals that need to be corrected. "I want everything working as safely as possible·And we need the railroads to be more responsible by not blocking the roadways."

Since the railroad safety task force committee is made up of volunteers, Germann expects it will take up to two years for the committee to complete all of its studies, which will include watching the train and vehicle traffic, monitoring trains speeds and checking conditions at the crossings.


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