Stuck at a crossroads Featured

9:50am EDT July 22, 2002

You’re running late for an appointment. Already your heart is pounding. Then you see it: The flashing red lights at the upcoming railroad crossing.

As you reluctantly ease your car to a stop, you realize this is more than a minor inconvenience. The train is actually stopped, blocking the entire intersection. No telling when traffic is going to start moving again.

That’s a scenario state lawmakers are aiming to avoid in the future by cracking down on railroad companies whose stopped trains tie up traffic for longer than a few minutes at a time.

With the merger of Norfolk Southern and CSX Transportation and acquisition of Conrail, more train traffic is traversing Ohio, making blocked grade crossings a growing concern. lawmakers say. Enter House Bill 399, introduced by Rep. Gene Krebs (R-Camden) earlier this year.

This bill would increase penalties for railroad companies whose trains obstruct a public street, road or highway for longer than five consecutive minutes, unless the train is continuously moving. Current law requires railroad crossing obstructions to be removed for at least three minutes every five minutes to allow people and vehicles to cross the railroad tracks.

Railroad companies which fail to comply are fined no more than $1,000 under current law. Under House Bill 399, that penalty would be changed to a minimum of $500, plus an additional $100 for each minute that the violation exceeds 25 minutes. A maximum fine of $10,000 per violation is included in the bill.

In addition, any suspected violation would be reported to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and the Ohio attorney general. If the PUCO finds probable cause that a violation occurred, the Attorney General’s Office would be required to prosecute.

Any resulting fines would have to be paid by the railroad company within 120 days. Failure to make payment in this timeframe would result in a separate offense, which carries an automatic fine of $10,000.

House Bill 399 has been assigned to the House Transportation & Public Safety Committee, of which Rep. Sam Bateman (R-Milford) is chair. How to reach: Rep. Sam Bateman, 466-8134 or rep71@ohr.state.oh.us

Nancy Byron (nbyron@sbnnet.com) is an editor and statehouse correspondent for SBN.