Crossings

A common sight on the south side of Abilene are vehicles waiting on the two railroad tracks there.

A train blocking the railroA train blocking the railroad crossing at Buckeye Avenue near Second Street last week caused U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., to be late to his visit to Abilene.

“Being on time is an important thing to me, and it was annoying to be sitting there waiting for the train to cross so I could be where I was supposed to be on time,” he said.

Many area motorists were detained when a train blocked the same Union Pacific railroad crossings Aug. 2 for well over an hour.

At that time Abilene Police Chief Mike Mohn said he was unable to enforce Abilene’s 10-minute ordinance.

Federal laws rule

In State v. BNSF Railway Company, the Kansas Court of Appeals said federal laws preempt any state or local laws limiting the time a train can block traffic.

In that case, a BNSF train blocked two railroad crossings in Chase County for approximately four hours. The amount of time the train was stopped was contentious. The Chase County sheriff issued BNSF a citation for blocking the railroad crossings for longer than 10 minutes in violation of KSA 66-273. The Court of Appeals held that KSA 66-273 is preempted by the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act and reversed BNSF’s conviction.

On Aug. 2 in Abilene, it was also a BNSF train on the UP tracks, according to Raquel Espinoza, Union Pacific Railroad senior director, corporate communications and media relations.

“It happens in Kansas too frequently. It’s not just an Abilene story. It’s in communities across our state,” Moran said. “In recent days I’ve had conversations with the railroads about this circumstance. Their answer is always that there is a number to call. When that happens, call us and we’ll move quickly. But that’s not really a solution to an emergency situation. It may be a solution to an inconvenience circumstance, but when you are needing to get from one side of the tracks to get to the hospital, or a fire truck to get to the fire, or police to respond to an accident, that’s not a sufficient answer.”

Andy Williams with BNSF, said the railroad does its best to limit the amount of time any crossing is blocked on a mainline track.

Tries to be quick

“Our business and our customers depend on BNSF to keep our trains moving 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said. “A variety of factors including equipment, track or weather events can interrupt train operations. When our trains experience a situation that forces them to stop, BNSF works to correct or resolve the situation as quickly as possible to resume the safe movement of trains.

Call these numbers

When asked how the UP handles blocked traffic, Espinoza gave the standard answer: “Please let your readers know they can report stopped trains by calling Union Pacific’s Response Management Communications Center at 1-888-877-7267,” she said in an email.

Operators will look into the situation and create a record of the report into a database. Readers can also call the phone number posted at the crossing.

According to a legislative assistant for Moran, steps are being taken to address trains blocking traffic at the Federal level.

The Railway-Highway Crossings Program (also known as the Section 130 Program) provides funds for the elimination of hazards at railway-highway crossings. In addition to the average hazard-elimination project, the program also extends eligibility to include projects at grade crossings to eliminate hazards posed by blocked crossings due to idling trains.

“Through conversations with stakeholders on the program, they had a few recommendations to make the program more effective by adding increased flexibility,” said Lauren Orndorff, a legislative assistant working on commerce, transportation and space issues for Moran. “One of their recommendations included increasing the federal share for projects funded under the Section 130 Program from 90 to 100 percent. This was a priority we shared with the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and was ultimately included in their highway legislation, S. 2302, America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act, which passed out of Committee on July 30.”

The legislation still does not address the amount of time trains can block traffic.

“It’s a small step but hopefully in the right direction,” she said “As a whole, as we are trying to look at this issue, what we can do to help mitigate this now, we had heard feedback that the added flexibility for this program would be beneficial to help mitigate this problem. We are obviously working on this as a whole, one that I am obviously continuing to work on.”

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

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