Lake Twp.: Rep’s office talked with rail company about crossing blockages

Larry Limpf

A spokesman for Congressman Bob Latta’s office last week said Representative Latta has talked with management of Norfolk Southern to try to resolve concerns of Lake Township officials and residents over blocked rail crossings.
The township sought Rep. Latta’s assistance with the problem, which has increased over the past year, said Mark Hummer, township administrator.
Stopped trains have simultaneously blocked crossings at Walbridge, Lemoyne, Bradner, Pemberville, Millbury, Fostoria, Mathews and Ayers roads, he said.
Drew Griffin, a spokesman for Rep. Latta, said the congressman has had “good conversations” with the rail company.
“The economy has done better the past few years and there has been more rail traffic. The Toledo area has been a back-up location for when Chicago gets backed up. We have talked with Norfolk Southern and they have apologized and are going to try to work to insure there are fewer blockages in Lake Township. At least try to keep some of the main arteries cleared,” he said, adding the congressman emphasized the importance of keeping Walbridge Road clear.
In the state legislature, Representative Thomas Hall has introduced House Bill 361, which would require rail companies to report crossing blockages of more than five minutes to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.
The bill would impose a first degree misdemeanor charge and fines for rail companies that don’t submit an incident report. For the first violation the fine is $5,000. The fine increases to $10,000 for a subsequent violation within 30 days.
The bill requires the PUCO submit an annual report to the legislature that contains aggregated incident report data by July 1.
A legislative aide for Rep. Hall said the bill will likely be assigned to a committee by mid-September after the summer recess.
Representatives from both parties have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill.
Ohio Revised Code says:
(A) No railroad company shall obstruct, or permit or cause to be obstructed a public street, road, or highway, by permitting a railroad car, locomotive, or other obstruction to remain upon or across it for longer than five minutes, to the hindrance or inconvenience of travelers or a person passing along or upon such street, road, or highway.
(B) At the end of each five minute period of obstruction of a public street, road, or highway, each railroad company shall cause such railroad car, locomotive, or other obstruction to be removed for sufficient time, not less than three minutes, to allow the passage of persons and vehicles waiting to cross.
(C) This section does not apply to obstruction of a public street, road, or highway by a continuously moving through train or caused by circumstances wholly beyond the control of the railroad company, but does apply to other obstructions, including without limitation those caused by stopped trains and trains engaged in switching, loading, or unloading operations.
Two recent cases in federal courts over the issue of blocked crossings have gone in favor of rail companies.
In 2017, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio issued a judgment in favor of CSX that enjoined the City of Defiance from prosecuting blocked crossing violations. The court ruled the CSX switching services at a General Motors casting plant in the city were covered by the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act, not by state law.
The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a similar Michigan statute that prohibited a rail company from blocking a crossing for more than five minutes. The court determined that the statute was not enforceable because it was pre-empted by the Federal Railroad Safety Act.
An email message left for comment with the Norfolk Southern media relations office wasn’t returned.


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