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Monday, May 18, 2015

Ind. Gov't. - "As rail shipments rise, public backlash forces costly steps to deal with noise, traffic jams"

That was the headline to a long, well-worth-reading April 30th story in the $$$ WSJ, reported by Laura Stevens. Her story focused on Savannah, Georgia. Here is a sample:

Railroads are facing a growing backlash—not just against dangerous oil trains, but against the noise, delays and traffic jams caused by rail’s rapid expansion and recent success. Rail shipments have increased by more than 6% in the past three years, but a bigger problem is that trains are getting longer, slower and—in many places—more frequent. At least one railroad now averages trains more than a mile long. And trains are federally mandated to honk at most street-level crossings for safety reasons.

Community resistance has historically been just a nuisance to railroads. The rails own their own right of way and operate under federal authority that typically supersedes local ordinances.

Lately, though, public pushback has gotten both serious and costly. It is forcing expensive improvements, interfering with expansion plans and curbing growth. In March, BNSF Railway Co. voluntarily slowed oil trains to 35 mph from 40 mph or higher near populated areas due to community safety concerns, effectively cutting capacity. Canadian National Railway Co. might be on the hook to pay $47 million for an underpass in Barrington, Ill.

Indiana has been seeing the same problems. "St. John wants trains to hold the horns please" is the headline to this NWI Times story by Phil Wieland.

Chris Meyers reported May 17th in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette:

A new local push is underway to try to get railroad companies to take notice that local cities and towns have hit their limit when it comes to trains stopped across rail crossings.

Crossings in New Haven have been the most recent targets for violations, bringing Allen County into the fray with DeKalb County, which has a stack of pending tickets against a railroad company.

Although New Haven and Allen County police have issued tickets occasionally throughout the years in the city, the beginning of May saw a slew of violations.

Fifteen tickets were filed by the Allen County and New Haven police departments against Norfolk Southern from May 4 to 8, according to court records.

Tickets are issued when trains block crossings for more than 10 minutes, a violation of Indiana law that carries up to a $500 fine upon conviction.

“We have received some complaints, and we have been watching for these types of violations,” New Haven Police Chief Stephen Poiry said.

With the rail yard in town spreading activity over several spurs of track and affecting several streets, his officers are used to such violations.

“It’s been an issue for years,” Poiry said.

All the new tickets, though, have been transferred out of New Haven’s city court to Allen Superior Court and set for bench trial. That’s a change from the pleas that historically put an end to the case.

A similar battle is looming in DeKalb County, where a history of mutual resolutions came to an end recently when a CSX train blocked a crossing for 14 hours.

“That probably caused us to take a pretty hard stance and say maybe we should start taking these to trial,” said Erik Weber, a part-time prosecutor for DeKalb County who is handling the pending tickets.

CSX now has at least 42 pending tickets set for trial that otherwise likely might have been resolved with guilty pleas or dismissals. Forty of those were filed this year.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 18, 2015 09:10 AM
Posted to Indiana Government