Lake Twp:.Stopped trains, blocked crossings a problem

Larry Limpf

Problems with blocked rail crossings in Lake Township have increased in the past year or so, prompting local officials to seek the help of federal and state representatives.
Township police chief Mark Hummer said last week he’s been in contact with Congressman Robert Latta and State Representative Haraz Ghanbari to discuss stopped trains often blocking six or more crossings.
“They have been assisting in trying to work with the railroad (Norfolk Southern) to minimize the number of times crossings are blocked. Sometimes it’s not avoidable but it’s gotten quite bad as of late. So we’re doing what we can to work with them to get them to stop. Railroads are regulated federally so there is not much we can do on the local level other than ask for their cooperation.”
A resident who lives close to the crossing on Walbridge Road has been keeping a record of the blockages, and the township has been forwarding that data to Latta’s office, chief Hummer said, adding dispatch records for emergency vehicles that get blocked at crossings while responding to calls are also being logged.
Stopped trains have simultaneously blocked crossings at Walbridge, Lemoyne, Bradner, Pemberville, Millbury, Fostoria, Mathews and Ayers roads.
“They really are cutting the township in half,” he said.
Bruce Moritz, township fire chief, said the problem seems to worsen on weekends.
“It’s an issue that needs to be addressed with them,” he said. “We have automatic assist agreements with other departments but depending on the location there will still be some lag time at some places.”
Rep. Ghanbari has signed on as a co-sponsor to 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.
An analysis of the bill by the Legislative Service Commission questions whether the fines would be enforceable if the bill would become 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.
“Since Ohio’s (proposed) law is very similar to Michigan’s law, a court may rule that enforcement of the law is in violation of the FRSA and thus not enforceable,” the analysis says.
HB 361 was introduced June 28 by representatives Thomas Hall and Jessica Miranda. As of last week, eight representatives from both parties, including Rep. Ghanbari, had signed on as co-sponsors.
An email message for comment left with the Norfolk Southern media relations office wasn’t returned.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration in 2019 unveiled a webpage for the public and law enforcement to report blocked highway-rail grade crossings.
The FRA noted that blocked crossings pose potential safety risks, specifically in locations where trains routinely hinder roadway and pedestrian movement for extended periods. Frustrated drivers may attempt to clear the crossing before a train arrives.
The webpage,, requests specific information from users reporting blocked crossings, including date, time, location and duration.


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