CONNEAUT — People driving in Conneaut may want to take a detour around the railroad crossing at Gore Road.
Since the beginning of September, there have been a total of 19 blockages of the railroad crossing at Gore Road reported to various entities, including the Conneaut Police Department.
All blockages took place between 8 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. and were scattered through the previous two and a half months. Several of the complaints took place on two or three sequential days, including Oct. 4, 5, 9, 10, 25, 26, 27, Nov. 8 and 9. There were also complaints at crossings on Chestnut Street and Woodworth Road during that time period.
The blockages have been reported to the police department, and those reports were passed on to the law director and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio’s blockage tracker, according to the Conneaut Police Department.
According to PUCO, 13 reports have been made about the Gore Road crossing since the beginning of September. PUCO tracks the length of those blockages.
The longest blockage lasted for 156 minutes, more than two and a half hours. In one instance, on Oct. 25, there were less than two hours between blockages lasting 45 minutes each.
For blockages that had a time frame attached to them, 11 in all, the average duration was 66 minutes, according to data from PUCO’s website.
The Ohio Revised Code allows stopped trains to block intersections for five minutes, unless the circumstances are “wholly beyond the control of the railroad company.”
If a train has been stationary for five minutes, it must clear the intersection for at least three minutes before blocking it again, according to the same law.
The law does not apply to moving trains, but does apply to trains that are switching, loading or unloading.
Enforcement of the law is difficult because of recent court cases, Matt Schilling, a spokesperson for PUCO said. “The Federal Railroad Administration has asked states to collect data on where and when this happens. We have a form on our website that we’re encouraging Ohioans to fill out so we can collect this data and share it with the FRA, because any action is essentially going to have to come from them,” Schilling said.
Continental Structural Plastics’ Conneaut facility is just west of the Gore Road crossing. “CSP’s Conneaut operations are being negatively impacted by Norfolk Southern Railroad’s on-going, extended train stoppages on tracks near our plant,” CSP said in a statement.
Stopped trains have impacted deliveries and shipping, the statement said.
“More importantly, these stopped trains are affecting our people. Blocked crossings are making it difficult, and sometimes impossible, for employees to reach work in a timely manner. There is also significant concern about potential emergencies inside the facility. If we were to have an accident or incident, a stopped train will make it impossible for first responders and emergency crews to reach our plant. Similarly, if an employee has a family emergency and needs to leave, a blocked crossing will prohibit or hinder that employee from quickly reaching loved ones in need,” the statement said.
“The public’s upset about it,” Conneaut Police Chief Michael Colby said.
“The most severe of these incidents occurred the other night when two police cars and an engine were on the north side of Woodworth Road, which there’s no way out of, and they were blocked there for an extended period of time,” Colby said. “I’m aware that the railroad, they have policies or procedures regarding their engineers and how long they can physically be in operation of a train, but stopping them where they do when they don’t have another crew ready to come on, or a crew ready at that point when they arrive is ridiculous.”
Norfolk Southern operates the tracks that cross Gore Road.
“The railroad crossing at Gore Road is located near one of Norfolk Southern’s rail yards, and occasionally, yard operations might cause temporary blockages at Gore Road. Norfolk Southern is aware of the concerns in Conneaut and apologizes for any inconveniences to the community. We are looking into the matter and working closely with our transportation team to review local operations,” Norfolk Southern Spokesperson Rachel McDonnell Bradshaw said in a statement.
Norfolk Southern works to minimize the time that trains block crossings, Bradshaw said. Situations sometimes require a train to stop or slow, though, she said.
“In all instances, Norfolk Southern works to resume the safe movement of a train as quickly as possible. If a train blocks a crossing for an extended period of time, residents can contact Norfolk Southern Police at 800-946-4744. This number is on the emergency notification sign posted at every highway-rail grade crossing. Norfolk Southern also works closely with first responders to ensure safe passage through railroad crossings,” Bradshaw said.
Schilling encouraged anyone is affected by a train stoppage to report it to the Public Utility Commission using a form on their website, puco.ohio.gov.
“It’s very troubling and it seems to be daily,” Colby said.