Railroads Can’t Be Fined For Blocking Traffic

Frustrating Officials & Emergency Responders In Seymour, Crothersville, Austin & Scottsburg

The Indiana Supreme Court has ruled that communities can no longer fine railroad companies when trains block traffic for longer than 10 minutes, an option some cities along the Indiana & Louisville Railroad Co. were considering as they contend with more rail traffic.
Supreme Court justices unanimously agreed in the ruling that an 1865 law was pre-empted by the 1995 Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act. The act prohibits states from enacting a law or rule that manages or governs rail transportation.
Norfolk Southern Railway Co. challenged the statute after receiving 23 tickets in Allen County, where Fort Wayne is located. The railroad’s lawyers said the company faced a burden of having to speed up trains or run shorter trains to comply with the statute.
Railroad crossings have been a long-standing issue in Jackson and Scott Counties. Communities along the rail lines have sought money to pay for expensive safety features at the crossings, which railroad companies don’t have to pay for. The Louisville & Indiana Railroad Co., which runs north and south, also improved the lines and got permission to run more and faster trains on tracks through Jackson & Scott Counties. The stopped and slowed trains can cut off traffic.
The issue is particularly bad in Seymour— a city which bills itself as the ‘Crossroads of Indiana’— when a northbound ILRC train switches to a east bound CSX railway. Slowed, lengthy trains can block US 50, State Road 11 as well as numerous city and rural crossings while making the transition.
The issue has prompted the addition of fire and ambulance facilities strategically placed in Seymour in the event of lengthy train delays.
“But the hospital emergency room is on the west side of town and it there is a eastside vehicle crash or fire at the same time a train is coming through town, it can be a very bad situation,” said Seymour Mayor Craig Luedeman
Emergency responders would have to decide whether to go around the train at a different crossing, which would add costly minutes to the run time, or wait it out. And now, because of the Supreme Court ruling, they could risk waiting longer than 10 minutes.
The issue is prompting the city to begin plans another railroad overpass on the city’s south side on a proposed Burkhart Boulevard extension to State Road 11 (Walnut Street). Seymour already has an overpass on North Burkhart over the railroad. Planning for that began in the 1980’s, Luedeman said.
The ILRC line runs through the middle of the Scottsburg, Austin, Crothersville and Seymour’s downtown as well as the westside of downtown Columbus.
Overpasses in Scottsburg, Austin and Crothersville would be cost prohibitive.
Railroad companies last year upgraded tracks throughout the state to allow for more trains, more weight on a freight and higher speeds. But they have not upgraded safety features at railroad crossings. Those changes fall on the cities themselves, which frustrates local officials.
Before the Supreme Court ruling, Indiana law allowed cities to issue tickets for $200 or more to railroad companies if one of their trains stopped or blocked traffic for more than 10 minutes at a time.