Railroad reps tell council they will work to reduce crossing wait times

Fitness club owner says delays have cost him 100 members

Michelle Stuckey
February 03, 2011 at 1:04 pm  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Parish Council members met with railroad representatives to discuss blocked crossings and railroad crossing repairs.
Jonathan Menard
Parish Council members met with railroad representatives to discuss blocked crossings and railroad crossing repairs.
Railroad problems across the parish could be coming to an end thanks to a meeting that the Parish Council held with representatives from Union Pacific Railroad, Canadian National Railroad Police, Kansas City Southern Railway and the Federal Railroad Administration.

Council members Wendy Benedetto, Shelley Tastet and Larry Cochran sponsored the meeting on Tuesday to discuss problems with trains blocking intersections and railroad crossing repairs. Benedetto outlined the major problems, including delayed school busses, severe traffic on Ormond Boulevard and delays near the hospital.

"For some of these highways, there's only one way in and one way out. When it's blocked you would have to go all the way around," Benedetto said.

One of the outcomes of the  meeting was learning that parish authorities have apparently been calling the wrong numbers when it came to reporting railroad problems.

"You can call for an emergency…but you have to call the right person," said Morris Evans with the Canadian National Railroad Police.

All of the representatives provided Parish Council members and emergency personnel a list of phone numbers to call and report major delays or emergency situations.

Council members were relieved to have lines of communication open with the railroad companies after months of unanswered calls and letters.

"I feel somewhat disrespected because we don't even get a returned phone call or letter…it just falls on deaf ears," Councilman Marcus Lambert said. "As a local official, we're trying to help our constituents but we can't."

A representative from the St. Charles Parish Sheriff's Office said that the police are working on maps that will make it easier to identify which railroad company to call when there is an emergency or blockage.

The railway representatives said they were unaware of the major congestion and delays that trains have caused throughout the parish but will work to fix the situation.

"We can usually resolve 75 percent of problems when we just get together cooperatively like this," said Carolyn Cook with the Federal Railroad Administration.

Evans stressed the point that it is in both the railroads' and the public's interest to stop any major delays.

"When those trains do not move, we don't make any money," he said. "We do care…we're going to try to prevent (the delays)."

Furthermore, Ron Tindall with Union Pacific said that one of his railway's employees was actually shot last year because of a train blocking a crossing.

Several community members showed up to the meeting to give an account of the train delays and how it has affected them.
Kent Hall, owner of Hill Heights Fitness in Destrehan, said that severe train delays on Ormond Boulevard have caused him to lose almost 100 customers in the past year. He said one man recently came to buy a membership and ended up getting a refund before leaving because he was stranded at the gym for 45 minutes waiting for a train to pass. In fact, Councilman Marcus Lambert said that he had to cancel his membership to Hill Heights because of the railroad delays.

"(Hall) may lose his business because individuals are dropping membership because they can't get to or from his gym," Lambert said.

Hall also said he has witnessed train engineers parking the train in an intersection and leaving it there while they go into a convenience store.

Another community member, Richard Duhe, said that he believes the train engineers are deliberately playing games with the public. He said he has witnessed engineers have verbal altercations with people who are stuck in traffic because of the train blocking the intersection, and that the engineer would give the motorists "the bird."

Ken Rousseau, director of Emergency Medical Services for St. Charles Parish Hospital, came forward at the meeting and said that blocked crossings at Paul Maillard Road and Ormond Boulevard have also caused problems during emergencies.
Another point that Council members Carolyn Schexnaydre and Dennis Nuss brought up was the use of horns at railroad crossings during the night.

They said that trains sometimes blow their horns continuously through three crossings in Luling, including Paul Maillard Road, during the night.

Cook, with the FRA, said that trains are required by federal law to blow the horn at crossings for at least 15 seconds if the train is moving under 45 miles per hour, and at least a quarter of a mile if the train is moving faster. Since the crossings are so close together, she said it could sound as if the horn is continuously blowing.

Cook said that a "quiet zone" could be created in the neighborhood which would make the train horn about 95 percent less frequent, but that it would come at a sizable cost to the parish and the chances of a car accident would increase by about 60 percent.

View other articles written Michelle Stuckey

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RSVP offers way for  seniors to stay active
RSVP offers way for seniors to stay active
St. Charles Parish’s Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and its senior volunteers are staying as busy as they ever have.

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