It seems almost a perpetual nuisance in the Village of Archbold: an idle train blocks the railroad tracks for hours several times each month, stalling traffic and disrupting motorists’ schedules.
Police Chief Leo Wixom feels their pain. Unfortunately, he said, the village is almost out of options to alleviate the problem. And the culprit, Norfolk Southern Railway, has advised that train activity through the village will significantly increase within a few years.
“We’ve exhausted pretty much what we can do,” Wixom said.
Trains idling at three locations in the village is not a new situation but seems to have worsened over the past couple of years, he said. Thirty to 40 complaints are lodged by motorists each time a train sits at tracks on Defiance Street south of the Stryker Street intersection and on Franklin Street, also south of Stryker Street. The wait often lasts at least three to four hours, although on one occasion it extended to more than nine hours.
The main area of contention, however, is a side rail traveling almost three miles from just west of County Road 21 to east of County Road 24. That’s the stretch where train conductors or engineers plant their engines during a breakdown or when, like long-haul truck drivers, they’ve reached their federally-regulated time limits to operate their vehicles.
When that happens, a replacement is called in, usually from Elkhart, Ind., a three- or four-hour trip.
When drivers get antsy over the wait, especially during the morning rush and the lunchtime drive, “you have traffic jams, people trying to maneuver around,” Wixom said. Last summer, driver impatience resulted in two simultaneous traffic accidents on Defiance Street.
“It’s been an ongoing issue for us. It’s not the frequency of (the blocked track), just the length,” Wixom said.
Norfolk Southern told village officials part of the problem is longer trains, and the police chief said the company is trying to work with Archbold by reducing their length. But as the problem persists, the village is attempting to be proactive.
The railway has been cited by Archbold police more than 20 times for obstructing a public roadway. The citations date back as far as 2001, according to Fulton County Western District Court records, and typically drew $100 fines. They were issued under a section of the village’s disorderly conduct ordinance because the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled a railroad is a federally-regulated entity, and village and state laws can’t supersede the federal ruling.
Village Engineer Robert Seaman said possible solutions to the blocked tracks have been discussed at length with the village’s Street and Sidewalk Committee but nothing has been implemented.
“Unfortunately, our geometry downtown doesn’t give us a lot of opportunities to do any infrastructure changes. So right now we’re concentrating on education and trying to get traffic to flow with what we do have,” he said.
Seaman said the village could attempt a way to permanently reroute traffic so it doesn’t travel through that corridor, “but it’s our downtown.”
Notice of the train furor was sent over a year ago to District 5 Congressman Bob Latta, who forwarded the information to contacts in Washington, D.C. “They didn’t think it was a real, major problem until they got some of our statistics,” Wixom said.
The village also contacted the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), which has kept spreadsheets that record the times and lengths of the blocked tracks.
Norfolk Southern said in a statement the railway “is committed to enhancing the safety and efficiency of rail operations for our customers and the communities we serve. Norfolk Southern is looking into the matter and working closely with our transportation team to review local operations in Archbold.”
The statement said Norfolk Southern works to minimize the amount of time its trains block railroad crossings.
“At times, operational situations might require a train to stop or slow, resulting in a temporarily blocked crossing. We apologize for any inconveniences to the community,” it read.
The railway said if a crossing is blocked for an extended amount of time Archbold residents can contact Norfolk Southern Police at 800-946-4744.
Wixom said the blockages have been reduced “but it still is an issue.” In addition, Norfolk Southern has informed the village that train traffic will increase up to 40% within the next several years.
Archbold has included a section on the village Facebook page where residents can file a grievance with PUCO. “The more they get complaints on it the more it will get attention,” Wixom said.
The village is also considering installation of a device that would warn motorists a train is blocking the train tracks and offer a detour.
For now, Wixom said, that’s about all the village can do to help. “I wish I had a tow truck that can move a train,” he said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.