Residents of Junction City are expressing frustration with the Canadian National Railroad, with nearly 50 trains passing through town each day during the last several months. The increased traffic has seen trains often blocking intersections for hours, causing traffic problems for residents and affecting emergency vehicle access.
Residents of the village, government leaders, and company officials met Thursday night to discuss the ongoing problem. Village President Peter Mallek urged company officials to make changes to their procedures. He suggested that the company “extend those (passing siding) rails another mile (west). That would take it out of town and eliminate some of our problems. They could decouple the trains, especially if they’re going to sit there…They could just be more conscientious of where the end of the train is and not block a crossing.”
Canadian National’s Director of Governmental Affairs Kevin Soucie says some of the increased traffic and delays were caused by the extreme cold during the winter, which he says impacts the air brakes on the trains. That forces them to run shorter trains, and requires more locomotives.
Soucie says another issue is that federal regulations limit engineers to 10 hours of work, and the trains have to stop where they are when that limit has been hit, until another engineer can be brought in.
Portage County District Attorney Louis Molepske, Jr. expressed frustration though at what he believes is the railroad simply paying any citations like they are part of the cost of doing business. He said “the railroad is smart enough. They have GPS, satellites, and they know where their trains are to fix this issue, and it’s about time they do.”
Molepske says blocking roads and driveways has led to several dangerous incidents, including a family that almost could not get to a hospital to have a baby delivered. In another case, fire crews had trouble reaching a tractor fire at a farm. He says there have also been cases of school children climbing under train cars that have been stopped for hours on the tracks.
Mallek is optimistic the meeting will lead to better communication with the railroad, but says he will still pursue better regulation and enforcement.