New website asks public to report blocked rail crossings

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Is a train blocking traffic in your neighborhood? Local residents now have a way to inform the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), which says it aims to use public reports to address problem areas.

In his e-forum newsletter, Richmond Mayor Tom Butt reported about a new webpage established by the FRA — called FRA Blocked Crossings — dedicated to allowing the public and law enforcement to report incidents of stopped trains that are impeding car or pedestrian traffic at railroad tracks for extended periods of time.

Collecting such data “will help us identify where chronic problems exist and better assess the underlying causes and overall impacts of blocked crossings — locally, regionally and nationwide,” FRA Administrator Ronald Batory said in a Dec. 20 statement.

Currently, there are about 130,000 public highway/rail grade crossings in the U.S. The issue of blocked crossings have vexed communities for decades, making people late for work, school and appointments, contributing to traffic congestion and also tempting drivers and pedestrians to perform unsafe crossings.

With numerous railroad lines crossing Richmond, the issue has long been a problem in the city. Over the years, elected officials such as Mayor Butt have made multiple attempts to fix the problem. In 2010, the city pursued a criminal prosecution against BNSF for a blocking incident in 2008, with the ultimate hope of inspiring regulatory changes. While states have imposed laws limiting the amount of time trains can block crossing (in California, it’s no longer than 10 minutes), court decisions have found time and time again that federal commerce laws supersede state laws.

On its website, BNSF says it does its best to limit the amount of time any crossing is blocked.

“Our business and our customers depend on BNSF to keep our trains moving,” BNSF said. “When our trains experience a situation that forces them to stop, BNSF works to correct or resolve the situation as quickly as possible to resume the safe movement of trains.”

The FRA hopes its new Blocked Crossings website will help lead to amicable solutions. The new FRA website requests information on the date, time, location, and duration of blocked crossings. 

“Railroads, states and local jurisdictions are best positioned to address blocked highway-rail grade crossings and I’ve asked them to work together to minimize unwanted impacts,” Batory said.

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