Stopped trains at railroad crossings – it’s been a frequent concern and frustration of St. Charles Parish residents for years.
“The railway traffic in St. Charles Parish has much to do with the Mississippi River’s commerce across the United States,” Samantha de Castro, parish director of communications, said. “St. Charles Parish is a part of the Port of South Louisiana, the second largest port by tonnage in the Western Hemisphere. The parish’s intermodal location along the Mississippi River provides direct access to major markets throughout the state and world, making railroads, maritime, air and truck transportation vital to the area.”
The freight rail in St. Charles Parish is served by the Canadian National, Illinois Central, Union Pacific, Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Kansas City Southern railroads.
“These connect to the New Orleans area’s six-carrier network, which is the largest carrier network in the southern United States,” de Castro said. “Of the seven Class 1 Rail Companies in North America, St. Charles Parish is one of the few places in North America where one can find four Class 1 Railroads.”
The frequency of train movement in the parish lends itself naturally to the downside of the commerce transportation as well.
St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office spokesman Cpl. James Grimaldi said the sheriff’s office has very little do in governing and monitoring railroad crossings.
“Obstructed crossing can be as much as a hassle for us as it is for anyone in our parish, but we are very fortunate for the fact that nearly every roadway in St. Charles Parish that has a railroad crossing has an alternate route of access,” he said. “It is often that a deputy may encounter a blocked crossing and it is a coin flip to determine if it is worth waiting for the train to clear the intersection or re-route. It has become common practice, especially on emergency calls, to announce via radio that you have encountered a train delay which will justify your delayed response time and also allow other deputies to possibly head to the call for service from a different route.”
Louisiana Revised Statute 48:391 states that is it “unlawful for any train, railroad car or equipment, or engine to obstruct vehicular traffic at a public highway railroad grade crossing for a period in excess of twenty consecutive minutes.”
There are rare exceptions to the 20 minute window detailed in the statute, and the railroad company can incur fines if the crossing blockage is reported as too long. All clarity on the matter, Grimaldi said, can be muddied when changing federal regulations come into play.
Grimaldi said that residents can either contact the Sheriff’s Office at 985-783-6807 or the Emergency Operations Center at 985-783-5050 to report a lengthy blockage.
“Although we will respond to confirm the reasoning for the complaint, our EOC normally acts as the liaison between us and the appropriate railroad company,” he said.
De Castro also noted that the EOC monitors railroad crossings through communication from the public.
“Once the message is in, the EOC contacts the specific railroad to report and get an accurate status,” she said. “The EOC will also notify the sheriff’s office as they can conduct any law enforcement, if necessary.”
Grimaldi said he cannot recall an instance in which operations of the sheriff’s office were hampered because of a blocked crossing.
“As I stated, the majority of our main roadways in St. Charles Parish are accessible from multiple routes,” he said. “If one side of Ormond is blocked from a train, we can access it from the other direction. We also have a good working relationship with our train companies in St. Charles Parish. On rare occasions where a crossing is blocked for understandable reasons such as a malfunction, obstructed track, train crash or whatever reason there may be, the companies will do their best to open a crossing even if it means they have to disconnect train cars at that location just to make a gap in the train at the crossing.”