WBKO Investigates: Blocked train crossings prompt frustration for area drivers

Complaints have been filed about the Dishman Lane railroad crossing.
Published: May. 22, 2023 at 3:12 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) – The lights flash, the arms go down, and traffic comes to a halt.

This may sound like a familiar situation, and it is one for many drivers across the U.S., according to data from the Federal Railroad Administration.

Complaints are made and logged in a public database on the FRA website. WBKO decided to look into local complaints – coming to the question of “Who regulates railroads and their crossings?” – and found one crossing in particular to be an obvious problem.

According to the data, there have been nine federal complaints filed about a rail crossing along Dishman Lane in Bowling Green.

“We all share the same frustrations,” said Phil Brooks, owner of Window World near Dishman Lane railroad crossing.

Brooks shares similar frustrations with drivers who are often stalled at the crossing for several minutes – some waiting longer than a half hour – as trains drop off and pick up freight.

“The longest I’ve been stuck is approximately 45 minutes,” said Will Constable, a frustrated driver who has filed complaints with the FRA but has never heard back.

The liners rumble through on their own schedules day and night, something people in the Bowling Green community say has become commonplace.

“Well, I just see cars sitting here for a long time. Sometimes it seems like an hour or more,” Brooks said.

Parked trains block cars several times a week – sometimes several times per day – with long and slow-moving trains going on for miles.

“I know there’s limitations on how long they can be standing there, and they’ve definitely exceeded those limitations,” Brooks said.

But who has control over regulating how long the trains block crossings? A cycle of confusion has ensued.

The Surface Transportation Board says the Federal Railroad Administration has authority over grade crossings.

The FRA disclaims it, deferring to states to care for the issue, but courts have prevented any state action.

“And a lot of time it’s just the crossing beam goes down and it’s just two engines going back and forth,” Brooks said. “They don’t even have a full train on it. Very weird.”

The result is a regulatory void.

Attorneys general from across the country are petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to decide once and for all who is in charge of regulating the rails when it comes to blocked crossings. Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron is one of those who has filed a brief asking the high court to consider the issue.

“There’s schools at both ends of this road,” Constable said. “There’s also an ambulance station on Industrial Drive that I can see the potential there for a problem.”

The Dishman Lane crossing is one of many across the region maintained by CSX. We reached out to them asking why crossing are often blocked in the area.

“At CSX, safety is our highest priority and we strive to be a good neighbor in the communities where our trains operate. We understand that it can be frustrating when trains block road crossings and we work hard to prevent that from happening whenever possible. There are times when mechanical and operational conditions could result in a blocked crossing, as well as when trains may stop for mandatory safety inspections or when entering busy rail yards. Our goal is to, safely and efficiently, transport freight and we appreciate the patience of motorists waiting for our trains to safely pass as we work to serve customers throughout the bluegrass state.”

“I think one of the easiest things to do would be to put a signal at both ends of Dishman Lane letting people know, ‘Hey, the track is blocked,’ so they can seek another route and not have to do a U-turn and turn around and waste their time,” Constable said.

“A tractor trailer is not going to make a U-turn, and they’ll be sitting on the other side of that railroad track for an hour or whatever,” Brooks said. “Their delivery gets delayed, and the rest of their day gets thrown off. So, those are the biggest concerns – the tractor trailers.”

On top of the inconvenience for drivers is the dangers of those trying beat the trains across the tracks.

“That happens very frequently, which obviously is very dangerous especially if the train is really moving. Or if it’s a double train you can’t see the other one coming,” Brooks said. “Anytime you do all of that moving around, you’re going to cause accidents. I’ve had several very close calls here.”

Stay tuned on the air and at our website as we continue looking into how trains and railroads impact communities like yours.

If you know of problems in your community, email allie.hennard@wbko.com.