Caution required at railroad crossings

Zach Tuggle
Mansfield News Journal

Jan. 9, 2017

GALION - Trains blocking railroad crossings in North Central Ohio create potential threats, say officials tasked with monitoring the situation.
The safety of drivers and those who live nearby are in the greatest danger, according to Crawford County Sheriff Scott Kent. Concerned citizens tend to report such incidents to local law enforcement agencies.

"We do get calls a lot," Kent said. "It almost seems like a normal thing anymore that we get a complaint."

Kent said most calls come from people who live near railroad crossings in rural areas, but that trains do sometimes stop within the limits of area cities. Officers visit the location to confirm the blockage, and record the date, time, location and various pieces of information from the train.

"The law says five minutes is all they're allowed to stop and block the crossing," Kent said. "We usually give them about 15 minutes."

Trains are allowed to move very slowly across intersections without fear of penalty. Those that remain stopped longer than the allowed time are given a $1,000 fine.

"It's been rare, but we've seen trains with no crews on them at all blocking the roads," Kent said. "They call that an abandoned train, and that carries a $5,000 fine."

Emergency personnel cannot use roads blocked by trains. Galion Police Chief Brian Satterfield said officers can call the railroad and ask them to send a crew to 'break' the train, which creates a gap across the crossing once the cars are disconnected. But since trains are very long, that process takes time.
"If we had some sort of serious emergency, it would still be faster to go around it," Satterfield said.

Kent said school buses will wait at blocked crossings for a little while, but will occasionally be forced to turn around and find a new route. He said he recently read a report about a bus that was stopped by a train for more than an hour.

"You always have to worry about a student's safety if the bus has to back up to a place where it can turn around," Kent said.

The Angels on Track Foundation, which supports rail safety, has recently received several calls about trains stopped in Galion, according to Vicky Moore, the organization's director.

"A gentleman who called says this has been an ongoing problem," Moore said.

Moore said trains have also stopped very close to the crossings in Galion, which she's afraid will tempt motorists to drive around the gates, exposing themselves to being struck my trains on the second set of tracks at the intersection.

The Ohio Rail Development Commission is aware of that situation, according to Julie Kaercher, the agency's public information officer.

"If you are caught going around a gate, you will absolutely be ticketed," Kaercher said. "Of course, nobody should be going around the gates anyway — that's why they're there, to keep people from having a collision."

Kaercher has asked the railroads to place their stop signals farther away from the crossings so that the trains will not activate the gates while they're stopped.

"If (the trains) can stop sooner, then the gates will never go down so people won't see the stopped train and go around the gates," Kaercher said.
But there's no way to force the railroads to stop further back from crossings, since they are a private business parking their trains on land that they own.

"They're trying to alleviate some of that problem though," Kent said. "A real problem is that trains are longer now — all the roads are roughly one mile apart, and these trains are all over over a mile long."

Until a solution is found, officials can only remind people to drive safely while fining the railroads when necessary. The Richland County Sheriff's Office filed five such charges on Dec. 27, and Kent said his office is preparing a few that he plans to take to court later this spring.
Twitter: @zachtuggle



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