Long delays at Ashton, Barton crossings frustrate drivers
A resident captured this picture of a train blocking a crossing in front of Ashton Plantation with the guardrail still up. She says she waited for 15 minutes before leaving.
Such a situation recently presented itself to Luling real estate agent Teresa O’Neil, who was on her way to show a home in Ashton Plantation.
“It’s happened to me before, but this time the train was stuck there for 15 minutes before I had to turn around because the train wasn’t even moving,” she said. “It’s just irritating, and in this case, the guardrail wasn’t even down.”
The train track that O’Neil is referring to is the Union Pacific line that causes some congestion in front of Ashton Plantation but mainly causes problems on Barton Avenue.
Luling resident Mark DeLoach, who regularly drives down Barton Avenue, said he constantly faces long delays at the crossing.
“Sometimes, it’s not that bad, but more often than not, you can end up waiting for 10 to 20 minutes,” he said.
Patricia Dufrene, who lives on Barton, said the delays are frustrating because they happen so sporadically.
“The thing is, you never know when you’re going to have to sit there for 15 or 20 minutes because the train runs at different times of the day and the wait is different every time,” she said. “I don’t face long delays all the time, but they do happen a lot.”
Dufrene said that while waiting for the train can be a hassle for some residents, it was a peaceful experience for at least one man.
“One night, everyone was sitting there waiting for so long that the man in the car in front of me fell asleep,” she said. “We had to knock on his window to wake him up and let him know the train had passed.”
Public Works Superintendent Stephen Truitt notified Union Pacific about the fact that the crossing arms were malfunctioning at the Ashton crossing, but that is about as far as the parish can take the issue. By parish law, any railroad corporation cannot obstruct, use or occupy a crossing for more than five minutes at one time.
Sheriff Greg Champagne, who said that he does get caught in the delays on Barton and sympathizes with residents on the issue, feels that the parish’s five-minute law is unconstitutional.
“The United States Supreme Court has issued rulings that prevent state and local governments from passing statutes which regulate railroads since they come under the ‘commerce clause’ of the United States Constitution,” he said. “The court has ruled that railroads and their movement do constitute interstate commerce under the constitution.
“We have a parish ordinance prohibiting a railroad from blocking a crossing for more than five minutes, however I am convinced that the ordinance is unconstitutional as per the ruling I referred too.”
Champagne said that the most commonly blocked crossings in the parish are those at Barton Avenue and Old Luling since there is a switch off or holding track running from Ama to Luling. These switch offs are located several miles apart and trains must take them and stop while allowing an oncoming train through.
“This is a necessity and there are going to be blockages where double tracks are located, but the railroads want trains to be stopped for as short a time as possible,” he said. “But it is physically impossible for a full size train to pull into the switch-off track, wait for another full-size train to come through and then depart opening up the crossing at Davis and Barton safely in five minutes or even ten minutes - even if they time it perfectly.”
Champagne said that his office tries to keep communications open with the railroads, and has not issued any citations since he was made aware of the Supreme Court ruling.
A larger issue than just having to waste time at a crossing is if an emergency situation ever arose at Ashton while the crossing was blocked. How would emergency responders reach homes in that area if they couldn’t go through the crossing?
“Because the Ashton crossing has only one track and is west of the Luling switch-off track, it would probably have to be some kind of accident that led to that being blocked,” Champagne said. “If we do have to get to the neighborhood in case of emergency, there is a locked gate that abuts Hackberry Street that we have keys to and we should be able to get there quickly in case of an emergency.”
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