YORK TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- At 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 17 a CSX freight train out of Buffalo rolled to a stop here, reports the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The 10,000-foot-long train, experiencing engine problems, stretched over road crossings at Wolff Rd., Lester Rd. and busy Columbia Rd., blocking traffic for three hours until repairs were made. Such occurrences are increasing, county officials claim.

"The crossings are blocked a lot more than you might imagine," said York Township Trustee Ken Totten, who frets that a stopped train might one day prevent a rescue squad or an ambulance from getting to its destination. "It can be a huge issue, particularly if someone's house is on fire."

Buck Adams, director of Medina County's Emergency Management Agency, fears that the problem may worsen.

CSX "is a very large corporation that is going to do what is right for that corporation, and we'll be damned," Adams said.

It's illegal in Ohio for a train to block a roadway for more than five minutes. County officials contend that the crews aboard long trains that stop for prolonged periods should consider "breaking" the train - disengaging cars at rail crossings so traffic is allowed to proceed. That maneuver is time-consuming, however, as brake pressure has to be restored before the train can travel again.

State lawmakers, responding to a steady stream of complaints, last year increased the fine for such blockages to a mandatory $1,000 for each infraction.

Terry M. Ludban, public safety coordinator for CSX, met with county officials this week to discuss the issue. Ludban said the York Township roads were blocked for three hours because of bad judgment by the train's crew. They thought they could get repairs done more quickly than they did, Ludban said.

He said he is not aware of increased problems in Medina County, but acknowledges that there have been problems elsewhere.

Bev Smith, City Council president in Olmsted Falls, said trains were cited 18 times in her city last year for blocking road crossings.

"They don't care," she said of the railroads. "It's cheaper for them to pay a fine than it is to solve the problem. This is all based on safety. Our Fire Department is on one side of the tracks and the Police Department is on the other side."

In other areas, officials believe the railroads have reduced blockings.

"Fortunately, the railroads have been more willing to work with us," said Bill Ommert, director of the emergency management agency in Huron County, which just a few years ago experienced continual problems with traffic-clogging trains. He said the mandatory $1,000 fine has helped get the railroads' attention.

But Ommert, like others, remains irked that the railroads are still difficult to communicate with when a train grinds to a halt. He said the railroads usually don't notify local safety forces, which could then temporarily alter routes to avoid delays at a blocked crossing.

"It's very, very irritating," Ommert said. "It could be life-threatening. Everyone could be saved a lot of headaches if they just made that phone call. It should be mandatory. Without them notifying us, they could be putting peoples' lives in jeopardy."

Ludban said he knows of no policy at CSX that requires railroad dispatchers to inform local safety forces when they learn from a train's crew that a road is blocked.

"We need to have better access to the railroad [companies] then we've had," said Lt. Craig Robinson of the State Patrol's Medina Post. Robinson said troopers got only vague information from CSX officials the night of Dec. 17 as the long train lay stalled in York Township. The patrol wanted an estimate of how long the train would be blocking roads, so safety forces could be informed. But getting such information from the railroad was difficult, as it often is, Robinson said.

"That was not warranted," he said. Ludban said he will review CSX operating procedures and determine if railroad dispatchers would be willing to call safety forces when they know a train is blocking a road. Another meeting with Medina County officials may take place.

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January 12, 2001

2001 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers