GALION — If you live, work, or drive through Galion, chances are you have been affected by a train blocking one of the multiple railroad crossings in recent months. It has become a problem felt not only by residents, but by Galion safety officials and elected leadership.
The issue was brought up at a recent city council meeting by Director of Law Thomas Palmer who said that not only was he aware of the problem, but he had been in contact with other cities in Ohio facing the same issue.
From what Palmer and others are able to determine, there is room for interpretation between federal and Ohio laws when it comes to the matter.
“The Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995 solidified federal control over railway transportation,” Palmer stated. “Since that time, there have been cases throughout the country dealing with the question of whether or not that piece of federal legislation “preempts” local laws governing railway operation.
“Most courts, but not all, have found that preemption exists, meaning that state and local laws on issues such as blocked crossings have no force and effect,” he continued.
According to Palmer, the issue came to a head in Ohio earlier this year in a ruling issued by a judge for the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio that involving the city of Defiance.
“There, CSX — the same rail company that has tracks that run through Galion — filed an action to stop the Defiance director of law from being able to prosecute the company for violation of Ohio law pertaining to rail crossings. There were some $35,000 in fines which had been charged against the railroad for violating this law.”
The judge who ruled in the Defiance case ruled that the federal law preempts the Ohio laws on blocked crossings and the fines against CSX were dismissed.
That result gives localities like Galion and others little ammunition to work with at the current time, but that does not mean that all hope is lost.
Last week Mayor Tom O’Leary brought up the problem when he met Rep. Jim Jordan who represents Ohio in the U.S. House of Representatives.
After speaking briefly about the railroad crossing blockages, O’Leary deferred to Police Chief Brian Saterfield to speak further on the issue.
“CSX used to contact us if there was a problem and a train needed to stay parked for a long period of time, or we could contact them and get an answer,” Saterfield said. “Now we can only submit an inquiry online, and usually receive no response.”
“Our dispatchers are the front line for dealing with the problem. We get multiple calls to the police department and mayor’s office every time a train is stopped and crossings are blocked in Galion,” said O’Leary.
“We have been documenting the blockages since they seemed to begin regularly in late October and early November. In my opinion, it has gotten out of control,” Saterfield noted. “The duration each time seems to average around a half hour, but has gone up to or over and hour at a time, also.”
Saterfield also said that he had been in contact recently with other Ohio police chiefs who were experiencing the same issue.
Jordan, who was unaware of the situation, said he was committed to doing what he could to help.
“At a minimum, we need to get a conversation started,” Jordan said.
Contact Erin Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-468-1117 x-2049.