In a case of déjà vu, a Norfolk Southern train loaded with shipping containers blocked the Defiance Street crossing for almost 18 hours, Sunday, Sept. 21.
The eastbound train stopped, with three cars extending over and west of the crossing, about 2 am.
It remained there until about 7:45 pm Sunday night, a total of 17 hours and 45 minutes.
It’s similar to a Saturday, Aug. 16 event, when another eastbound container train stopped on the tracks around 4:30 am to 5:30 am and remained immobile for nine to ten hours, finally moving around 1:30 pm.
Dave Pidgeon, manager of public relations for Norfolk Southern, said in an email to this newspaper, “I can’t speak to why an individual train stopped where it did.”
Jim Wyse, Archbold mayor, told village council during its Monday, Sept. 22, meeting, that he and Dennis Howell, village administrator, went to Co. Rd. 22, then drove west a short distance down the railroad right-ofway.
They observed the lead locomotive of the stopped train parked just west of a railroad signal tower and a switch that allows trains to move between the north and south tracks of the twintrack main line.
They speculate the train crew was not allowed to park the train east of the tower.
Train crews are allowed to uncouple, or break a train to clear a crossing, but a spokesman at the Norfolk Southern police department said the crew ran out of the time they are allowed to work before they could break the train.
Federal law allows a train crew to work 12 hours before they must stop and rest.
In part of his extensive email to the Buckeye, Pidgeon said NS has experienced an increased demand for rail transportation this year.
While the railroad has been hiring conductors for train crews, acquiring more locomotives, and spending on infrastructure, “we are also experiencing congestion, particularly in the corridor between Chicago and Cleveland, due to this increase in train volume,” he said.
“These three measures should help increase our fluidity and efficiency, and we hope you will see improvement by the end of the year.
“Trains can stop and occupy crossings for a number of reasons– mechanical issues, traffic congestion, obstructions or trespassers on the tracks, incidents that could be far away but require all train traffic to halt, crew changes, and so on.
“When you’re in the business of moving freight trains, we don’t want to stop. We want to keep moving. But for safety purposes, we may have to stop a train.”
Wyse said cars and trucks would pull up to the crossing, waiting for the train to pass.
When it didn’t, semis had to be helped to turn around and go around the blocked crossing.
The same situation arose Aug. 16.
Wyse told council at his request, the village street department began placing detour signs directing traffic to the Franklin Street crossing.
Later, the village street and engineering departments put up the electric message board signs at the intersections of South Defi- ance Street and West Barre Road, and at North Defiance Street at East Lutz Road, directing through traffic to the Clyde’s Way (Co. Rd. 22) underpass.
In the meantime, Wyse observed a Norfolk Southern pickup truck parked downtown.
Mary Huber, general manager of the Archbold Buckeye, located the NS worker, who had been eating lunch downtown. She advised the worker the mayor wanted to talk to him.
Wyse said the NS employee found him and said he was working near Co. Rd. 24.
While the employee was a track maintenance worker and not directly involved with the trains, he said he would call NS dispatch and find out what he could.
At 1:30 pm, Sunday, Wyse said he and Howell met with the worker at the Co. Rd. 24 crossing.
They told the worker they had posted detour signs.
The NS employee told them he had spoken with dispatchers.
He told Howell and Wyse they should continue to put up detour signs because the train would remain parked for some time.
At about 8 pm, Wyse told council he received a text message from Jason Martz, street commissioner, who advised the train was gone.
The detour signs were taken down.
This newspaper contacted Pidgeon Sunday night; copies of an email to Pidgeon also went to the offices of Randy Gardner, state senator (R-Bowling Green) and Robert Latta, U.S. congressman (R-Bowling Green).
Howell said both offices were aware of the situation. Gardner responded to this newspaper, pointing to Ohio Revised Code 5589.21, “Obstruction of roads by railroads.”
“No railroad company shall obstruct, or permit or cause to be obstructed, a public street, road, or highway, by permitting a railroad car, locomotive, or other obstruction to remain upon or across it for longer than five minutes, to the hindrance or inconvenience of travelers or a person passing upon such street, road, or highway,” the law states.
“At the end of each five minute period… each railroad company shall cause such railroad car, locomotive, or other obstruction to be removed for sufficient time, not less than three minutes, to allow the passage of persons and vehicles waiting to cross.”
Kenny Cowell, councilman, said he hopes Norfolk Southern is doing its best to operate safely and that they are doing all they can, “but it’s not enough.”
He said most of Pidgeon’s statement to the Buckeye was “window dressing.”
“To me, I find it hard to believe they can’t stop two miles west (of Archbold),” he said.
Howell told council members village officials had received unconfirmed reports that NS is planning to increase train traffic through Archbold by 50%, from 100- 120 trains a day to 150-160.
He suggested the design for an upgraded Co. Rd. 24 include at least a look at a grade separation (underpass or overpass) at Co. Rd. 24.
Wyse said he had heard “on the street” that NS was considering adding a third set of main line tracks to the right-of-way through Archbold.
When asked about a 50% increase in traffic and the possibility of a third set of rails, Pidgeon said, “Norfolk Southern Corp. doesn’t comment on rumors or speculation.
“What I can say is, if there’s a demand for rail transportation, NS will be there to provide it safely, reliably, and efficiently.”
In a related matter, Jeff Fryman, councilman, urged council to again look at creating a quiet zone in the village.
In a quiet zone, trains do not sound their horns at crossings at night.
When Howell balked at the expense and traffic problems a quiet zone creates, Fryman said he wanted to hear the information for himself.
“We’re going to be the ones voting on it. We want to hear it,” he said.
Wyse said he believed there was little, if anything, Archbold itself could do about the problem of trains blocking Defiance Street.
“We will have to see what our legislators can do,” he said.