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Dettling Memo: Warning System Won’t Reduce Railroad Crossing Blockages

A system to warn motorists when downtown railroad crossings are blocked was mentioned in a memo prepared by Donna Dettling, Archbold village administrator.

Dettling warned such a system wouldn’t stop or decrease the number or times the crossings were blocked, or could even promote more blockages.

Dettling released her memo, addressed to Brad Grime, mayor, and members of Village Council late Tuesday, Feb. 22, after a number of occasions when the Defiance and Franklin street crossings were blocked.

Two trains blocked the crossings for about 12 hours, Friday and Saturday, Feb. 19-20.

Fall 2019

“The last time Council and-or the street committee formally discussed stopped trains was fall of 2019, when we researched installing advance warning beacons,” Dettling said in the memo.

“At that time, we decided to wait and see if the situation would improve.

“The situation improved through the end of 2019 and 2020 up until several recent incidents in 2021,” Dettling said.

“We’ve discussed on many occasions the uphill battle Archbold faces to achieve the goal of stopping or reducing NSCorp’s (Norfolk Southern railroad) practice of parking trains that block crossings.

“The biggest issue is the ‘siding track,’ which is used regularly by NSCorp when problems arise. NSCorp’s standard practice is to split trains when they need to park on the ‘siding track’ to open up the crossing.

“However, NSCorp has admitted problems with being able to split trains that are too long for the ‘siding track’ due to lack of crews or crews running out of time to work.

“For the incidents so far in 2021, NSCorp continues to blame crew changes as their excuse for parking the train.

“A seven-hour crew change (which occurred Saturday, Feb. 20) is completely unreasonable.

“Our options are limited, but we will continue to put pressure on NSCorp through citation and reporting, as we believe there was improvement last year with this effort.”

Warning System

The warning system that council discussed included detection equipment rigged to colored lights at various locations leading to the crossing.

The light would be switched on if a train was stopped in the crossing.

It would warn motorists the crossings are blocked, and allow them to use an alternate route across the tracks.

In her memo, Dettling said, “A warning system, however, will not reduce the number of times a train blocks a crossing, which is the ultimate goal.

“There’s also the possibility that a warning system could bolster NSCorp’s decision to block crossings, as NSCorp may argue that the community is helping ease or resolve traffic issues.

“This could result in an increase rather than decrease in frequency and duration of blocked crossings,” Dettling said.

“We continue to emphasize concerns with local fire, law enforcement, and EMS delayed response as well as safety of school children when crossings are blocked.

“Reducing the frequency and duration of blocked crossings is the only way to have an impact on these safety concerns, which an advance warning system will not achieve.”