We’ve all been there: Gritting our teeth, wondering when that blasted train will move.
There’s a line of cars at the rail crossing, while a train sits idle on the tracks. After however long — the train companies will swear it’s no more than five minutes — there’s finally some movement, and we stress the word “some.” The train moves ahead a matter of feet, then everything again comes to a halt.
That’s if the train moved at all during the time it was blocking the road.
Everyone living here can understand it’s a landscape dotted with railroads and rail crossings. Trains being on the tracks signal there’s economic activity in our region, be it in the fields or in the factories. We count on trains to move what we make here.
That doesn’t mean rail companies ought to abuse the situation. Too often, though, they do. A few weeks ago, the Chicago, Fort Wayne & Eastern Railroad blamed a mechanical problem for a train blocking Eastown Road in American Township for three hours. Other times, rail companies seem to do it because they can.
Ohio is one of 13 states where a rail company can be fined for blocking the road for more than five minutes. But state law is vague, Allen County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Jim Everett told The Lima News. A train not moving could cost the rail line $1,000 per infraction — if the law were being enforced and applied evenly. That hasn’t been the case.
Some judges applied the law the way you’d expect, issuing the fine to train companies that block a street for more than five minutes. Other judges figure if the train moves at all — you know, like backing up and inching forward dozens of times — it wasn’t stopped. The result of that inconsistent application is that neither the Lima Police Department nor the Allen County Sheriff’s Office issued a fine for it the past two years.
If every business that had such wiggle room under the law took advantage of it the way some rail lines do, we’d be in trouble. Good corporate citizenship demands better.
Trains cross roads at almost 5,900 spots in Ohio. Allen County has 145 of them. Hancock County has 133. Another 94 are in Auglaize County, and Putnam County has 88 crossings. This region and this state have ample locations where trains blocking the road could be a problem.
State lawmakers ought to revisit this issue. Take away the confusion about what is and what isn’t allowed. Rail lines own the property they use, but they block public roads when they sit idle on the tracks.
A better solution would be for all rail companies to act more responsible.