HomePoliticsWhen trains block a road, local officials have few options - UnlistedNews

When trains block a road, local officials have few options – UnlistedNews

The federal government is spending billions of dollars on bridges, tunnels, and other infrastructure to route traffic over, under, and around railroad tracks. But for many local residents and officials, that’s an imperfect way to ease congestion on highways that are often blocked by freight trains.

To take advantage of federal money, communities must find a way to cover a portion of the cost of expensive upgrades. Also, it may be difficult or impossible to build bridges and tunnels.

Some towns and cities have successfully worked with the railroads to reschedule operations or move tracks away from busy highways. But many local officials complain that the railways are often unwilling to help, leaving communities with few options.

“Everyone loves trains and we appreciate the economic benefit of it, but we are tired of being held hostage,” said Brad Rogers, a member of the Elkhart County Commission in Indiana.

A decade ago, when he was sheriff, Mr. Rogers sent deputies to issue tickets for Norfolk Southern crews whose trains were hindering traffic. The tickets helped draw attention to blocked crossings and the congestion eased for a while. But the railroad sued the state, and the Indiana Supreme Court struck down the law that authorized local officials to fine railroads for blocking crossings.

The Association of American Railroads, which represents major freight railroads, has said its members work with local officials to ease congestion at crossings where they can, but the problem is complex and the result of years of limited public funding. for infrastructure improvements.

“When the railroads began connecting the country, people put down roots and built communities alongside them,” John Gray, the association’s senior vice president, said in a statement. “The railways allowed highways to cross tracks using grade crossings instead of grade separations, as was the norm in populated areas of most other developed regions of the world. Public entities, always eager to save a few dollars, readily agreed.”

Most states regulate gated crossings, but courts have thrown out several of those laws, ruling that only the federal government can enact and enforce such rules. Indiana and nearly 20 other states recently joined Ohio in asking the US Supreme Court to rule that states can issue such regulations.

Congress provided about $3 billion in 2021 to help fund projects that would ease congestion at frequently blocked rail crossings. In June, the Biden administration awarded the first round of grants from that fund, about $570 millionto make improvements in more than 400 crossings.

Houston will receive $37 million to build four underpasses and remove seven crossings. Pelham, Alabama, near Birmingham, will receive nearly $42 million to build a bridge and remove two railroad crossings along a highway that bisects the city. Olathe, Kansas, near Kansas City, will receive about $18 million to build an overpass with a sidewalk that will allow children to get to school and connect bicyclists and pedestrians to a trail system.

“What’s exciting about this moment is that for the first time there are specific, dedicated funds, and quite a lot, to address this,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in an interview.

Even before Congress made this money available, some local governments had found ways to reduce the impact of trains blocking crossings. In Utah, community groups are building a pedestrian bridge that will cross three Union Pacific rail lines and two local transit lines near a Salt Lake City high school. Congestion there frequently blocks roads, forcing some residents to climb or crawl under trains.

But some communities can’t raise the appropriate funds for bridge and tunnel projects or to pay for maintenance. In some areas, the construction of overpasses or underpasses may not be practical.

Many communities have opted for cheaper solutions.

Officials in West Springfield and Agawam, Massachusetts, sought federal funding to build a bridge over a railroad crossing along a highway connecting the cities, but were unable to win a grant. Therefore, officials must rely on flashing light signals that warn people when a train is crossing the street.

Those lights have helped but have increased congestion on other highways. And emergency medical workers are still forced to drive farther to avoid blocked crossings.

“We can’t even measure the damage it may have caused,” Agawam Mayor Bill Sapelli said. “If they turned around instead of taking the shortest route and someone didn’t make it, and it was a matter of minutes, that makes a difference.”

Mr. Rogers, the Indiana commissioner, recently visited a city that uses a system developed by Trainfo, a Canadian company. The company uses acoustic sensors and software to identify approaching and stopped trains. That information can be sent to traffic signals, emergency dispatchers, or social media sources.

“We wanted to work this out with the train companies, but apparently that’s not going to happen,” Rogers said. “So we’re trying to think outside the box.”

mark walker contributed reporting.


Sara Marcus
Sara Marcushttps://unlistednews.com
Meet Sara Marcus, our newest addition to the Unlisted News team! Sara is a talented author and cultural critic, whose work has appeared in a variety of publications. Sara's writing style is characterized by its incisiveness and thought-provoking nature, and her insightful commentary on music, politics, and social justice is sure to captivate our readers. We are thrilled to have her join our team and look forward to sharing her work with our readers.


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