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Greenwood gets complaints of stopped trains

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Trains passing through Johnson County on the Louisville & Indiana Railroad line aren’t just rumbling through crossings, they’re also stopping in the middle of them for up to hours at a time, residents say.

On May 5, Greenwood Fire Department spokesman Darin Hoggatt picked up his neighbor’s children from their bus stop east of Stop 18 Road because their mother couldn’t get there. She was stuck by a stopped train.

That’s the only time in recent months that the railroad company has told the fire department the reason for a stop, since it lasted several hours. Over the past three or four months, residents have been stopped frequently by trains that sit at crossings for 15 minutes or longer, Greenwood City Council member Linda Gibson said.

The city of Greenwood has gotten multiple complaints from residents and city council members, who say they’ve been stuck by stopped trains at railroad crossings, deputy mayor Terry McLaughlin said. The city’s response: Keep calling the railroad company and the state transportation department rail office to see what can be done. The city has had trouble getting calls back, McLaughlin said.

State law prohibits trains from stopping in crossings for longer than 10 minutes at a time, but it’s up to local police to write tickets, said Mike Riley, manager of the Indiana Department of Transportation rail office.

If trains are stopped for longer than 10 minutes, motorists can call the railroad and the company will check into what’s happening, Louisville & Indiana Railroad President Mike Stolzman said.

Typically, a train shouldn’t block an intersection unless it’s having mechanical problems or is waiting for a train ahead to clear the tracks, he said.

But residents say they are getting stopped. City council member Bruce Armstrong said that last week he waited at the Louisville & Indiana Railroad crossing on Stop 18 Road for 15 minutes. When it was clear the train wasn’t going to move, he turned around and found another route, he said.

At least four residents have called to tell Gibson they’re concerned about the stopped trains getting in the way of traffic, and she’s heard others talking about the issue.

“I think people are talking about it more because it’s happening more,” she said.

The trains haven’t been an issue for the fire department because there are fire houses on each side of the tracks, Hoggatt said. Any delays have been minimal, possibly adding a minute to response times, he said.

When Hoggatt’s neighbor got stopped this month, the railroad company called the fire department to let it know the train was having mechanical problems and would be stopped for several hours, Hoggatt said.

The train was stopped for at least four hours, and fire trucks couldn’t get through the crossing, so the fire department had to send trucks from a fire station on the other side of the tracks to an emergency call. The train caused only a one- or two-minute delay, he said.

Stolzman didn’t know of any trains recently having mechanical problems in Johnson County on the tracks belonging to the Jeffersonville-based Louisville & Indiana Railroad and hadn’t heard of the long stops in Greenwood.

“If you’re stuck for an hour, we’d know about it. It’s like shutting down all lanes of I-65 for an hour. Everyone would know about it,” he said. “We don’t want trains to stop. There’s a reason why they’re stopping, if they are stopping.”

Trains also stop for extended periods of time if their crews have worked 12 hours, which is the federally set maximum work shift length, and don’t immediately have workers to replace them, Riley said. He said he hasn’t heard of that being a problem in Greenwood.

If trains have reasons for regular stops in a city, then the communities can work out agreements with railroad companies to ensure roads aren’t blocked, Riley said.

For example, in Gary, trains stop on tracks that don’t block vehicle traffic, he said. Greenwood could do the same, requesting that trains stop on stretches of track that border farm fields instead of across roads, he said.

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