Waiting on a train

Motorists wait for a train to pass on Cedar Street in Abilene in this photo from the summer of 2019. Abilene drivers and visitors often have found themselves frustrated by long delays due to trains blocking the two sets of railroad tracks, particularly on the south side of town, although extended delays can happen at all crossings.

How many times have you been blocked at a railroad crossing for a long time waiting for a train to clear the tracks?

Many people in Abilene would say it happens way too often.

It’s a problem city and county officials have dealt with for years without any good resolution, but now there is some hope for relief. However, people are going to need to take some action, go online and document their experiences.

An online portal exists (https://www.fra.dot.gov/blockedcrossings/) that substantiates the impact of stalled trains on tracks. Dickinson County residents are encouraged to go online and help the United States Department of Transportation collect data. Information received will be used to determine a need for action.


45-minute plus wait times

In recent weeks, traffic in Abilene often has been at a standstill on the south end of town for extended times as trains block crossings.

During the March 11 meeting, the Dickinson County Commission asked County Administrator Brad Homman to reach out to Senators Jerry Moran and Roger Marshall for help after hearing from upset citizens who report wait times, sometimes of 45 minutes or longer.

“I took a call yesterday from a businessman reporting the track being blocked for over 45 minutes. It’s an ongoing problem,” Homman said during last Thursday’s meeting.

Sen. Moran experienced the frustration firsthand back in August 2019. A story in the Reflector-Chronicle at the time recounts how Moran was late for an appointment in Abilene after being held up at a railroad crossing while trying to get to the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum.

One factor which has made the situation especially frustrating is that Kansas has had a law on the books for about 100 years that says railroads can only block a crossing for 10 minutes at a time. After that, the engineer must either move the train or uncouple enough cars so traffic can pass through.

The railroads, however, ignored that law for years, saying Kansas cannot regulate how long trains block traffic. Then during a 2018 court case, the Kansas Court of Appeals sided with the railroads, saying the presence of the federal Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act supersedes state law.

Because of that ruling, the state statute for that 10-minute blocking time limit is no longer applicable, Homman said. However, that means the problem is a now a federal issue.

“I sent letters to both Congressman Moran’s and Congressman Marshall’s offices and they will work on it for us,” Homman told commissioners. “The ruling indicated that because the railroads operate with interstate commerce they are only subject to federal law. 

“It would take some type of federal assistance from our federal partners to help us through that,” Homman said. “So we will drop those seed and see what happens.”

Homman also noted that Sen. Moran, along with several other congressmen nationwide who experience similar problems in their districts, worked with former President Donald Trump’s administration to create the web link that allows people to document situations where they were blocked by a train.

“Whether you were held up at a railroad crossing in Abilene or anywhere else in the county, I encourage you to go to the web link and document that, show there is a problem and establish the foundation for the problem,” Homman added.

Commission Chairman Lynn Peterson said he also had received calls about the train problem.

“I think we can reach out to the railroad as far as just being a good neighbor to work with us because people do have places they need to go,” Peterson said. “I know they’re (railroad) concerned about their efficiency and to keep the trains moving, but they also need to kind of look out for us and be considerate.

“I know we don’t have as much leverage, but the other thing people can do is document it, participate, write your congressman and there’s probably someplace you could reach out to the railroads,” Peterson added.

The link, which is listed above, also can be found on the home page of the Dickinson County website at www.dkcoks.org


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