NORTH RIDGEVILLE — Years ago it was common for the city to issue citations to freight railroads for blocking crossings that tied up traffic and frustrated motorists.
Even though those trains still block local crossings, the railroad companies operating those trains are no longer cited.
“We don’t cite them because essentially we don’t have the authority to do so,” Law Director Andrew Crites said.
Even if the city decided to pursue such a case, it hasn’t felt the need to do so in some time.
“We have not come across an instance in which their obstruction of an intersection (crossing) wasn’t justified by emergency conditions or a breakdown,” Crites said.
A local ordinance under which citations could be issued against rail carriers was repealed some years ago because it conflicted with federal law governing train operations, according to Crites.
Since then, the city has not issued any citations against Norfolk Southern or CSX, the two major rail lines whose trains rumble through the city dozens of times a day.
Crites cited a 1996 U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling involving a small Michigan city that had cited CSX hundreds of times under a state statute limiting train stoppages at crossings to five minutes. The court held that federal regulations superseded state or local laws governing blocked crossings. Ohio was among several states mentioned in the ruling that had five-minute limits on trains blocking crossings. The federal court determined those time limits were unreasonable.
Crites conceded that scenario doesn’t ease the aggravation for drivers such as Nancy Kurianowicz, a longtime North Ridgeville resident who said she’s stopped at least a couple of times a week by trains at the Root Road crossing and must decide whether to sit in traffic and wait for a train to pass or turn around and find another way to go.
Kurianowicz frequents the Root Road crossing every day since she lives near the tracks.
“I know I can use the Route 83 overpass, but I still have to travel some miles around town to reach my home,” Kurianowicz said. “Whether I wait depends on if I have a book or newspaper to read. It’s very frustrating.”
Crites said it is rare for any train to be stopped for more than 10 or 15 minutes at any of the city’s crossings.
That is a vast improvement over incidents years ago when trains blocked crossings for a matter of hours, which led to multiple $1,000 fines by the city.
“When I was a new officer, we used to cite them quite a bit into Mayor’s Court,” police Capt. Marti Garrow said.
“There is an exchange yard at the western city limits with Elyria that used to be pretty busy,” Garrow recalled. “That led to delays when train cars were switched on two sets of tracks, but it’s not nearly as busy now.”
Still, the city sees 50 to 60 trains each day, Garrow said.
The majority are Norfolk Southern freights.
“The Norfolk Southern person we call to find why a train is stopped gives us a legitimate reason for it every time,” Crites said.
The vast majority of stoppages involve mechanical problems or breakdowns that usually occur to trains on tracks farther east of the city.
“It can be problems around Cleveland or further east, and they have a domino effect, which backs up trains to the west behind them,” Crites said.
With many freights being two miles in length, a mechanical problem can lead to a train blocking a local crossing, Norfolk Southern spokesman David Pidgeon said. “There are times when problems are a great distance from the area affected.”
Pidgeon said northern Ohio and Indiana are areas of heavy freight and passenger train traffic.
“This is one of the busiest corridors in the country,” Pidgeon said. “A great amount of freight moves on tracks through northern Ohio, including Lorain County.”
Angering local drivers isn’t the railroad’s goal, Pidgeon said.
“We do not want to occupy a crossing any longer than we have to,” Pidgeon said. “We fully understand why it is inconvenient and frustrating for motorists.”
Trains are also slowed or stopped along tracks where work is being done, or in spots where crashes are being investigated.
“We want to operate efficiently but safely,” Pidgeon said.
Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.