Indiana Supreme Court rules no more fines for long-sitting trains
DUNLAP, Ind. -- The Supreme Court ruled in favor of railroad companies Monday, removing the power to fine them for lingering in crossings longer than ten minutes. Many drivers in Elkhart County are not happy about the change.
Up until Monday, police could issue a fine of up to $500 to conductors whose trains lingered on the tracks for longer than 10 minutes.
After the Elkhart County Sheriff's Department heard about the ruling in favor of Norfolk Southern, they posted on Facebook saying in part, "The Indiana Supreme Court has tied the hands of law enforcement to help their communities."
Many drivers are equally as frustrated.
“It’s an absolute nightmare dealing with these train tracks," said Erik Schlegelmilch, who got stuck at the train on US 33 en route to his daughter's cross country meet.
The law permitting the fines had been in effect for decades.
”We’ve issued over 200 citations since 2014 just to address the citizen complaints about the railroads being blocked...We were trying to help our communities out by enforcing those statutes," said Captain James Bradberry with the Elkhart County Sheriff's Department.
Captain Bradberry said one of the intersections with the most complaints is US 33 and Sunnyside Avenue in Dunlap.
Neighbors point to CR 13 and 15 as other problem points.
“I live right off of 13, and every time I go to martin’s there’s always a train blocking the crossing or a train going west and east," said Don Carter, who has lived in Elkhart County his entire life.
“Absolutely hate it. We just had to skip from down the road to come down here to get around one that was parked across the tracks," said Danny Mullen, who I caught up with as he was trapped at one crossing.
Erik got caught up at that very intersection.
“We’re here to cheer on Concord cross country teams, and we got here at 5 o’clock for a race. We showed up early. Soon as we got here like 15 minutes till, there’s a train stopped here, not moving at all. We got to go all the way down to 17, circle around, and there’s still parents still showing up running late because they had to go all the way down to 17 to come in, and they missed the girls cross country team race," he said.
The train that held him up stayed blocking the tracks for around two hours.
“That’s unbelievable that they can sit here. What if there’s a medical emergency?...One of these days maybe the court system will get in favor of the citizens, the community, and make something be done over these tracks," said Erik.
Norfolk Southern sent the following statement in response to the ruling:
"Norfolk Southern works hard to be a good corporate partner with the communities we serve, and we strive to minimize the time that a train might block a crossing while moving America’s freight. The Indiana Supreme Court’s ruling is consistent with decisions by other state and federal courts holding that federal law preempts state regulation of freight rail transportation."
Captain Bradberry says if you're frustrated with the ruling, the best thing you can do is contact your local lawmakers.