Indiana Supreme Court considering allowing trains to park at crossings

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Hate being stopped by a train?

Now imagine if you were stopped for several hours.

The Indiana Supreme Court is now debating whether local governments should be allowed to fine trains for stopping and blocking an intersection for more than a few minutes.

As things stand right now, if a train is stopped and you can't get through, after only 10 minutes, Indiana cities can fine the railroad and tell the train to get moving.

Even with those laws in place, Mishawaka police and the St. Joseph County Sheriff's Office haven't fined a railroad for being stopped as far as they can recall.

"We have not issued a citation to a train crew," St. Joseph County Police Assistant Chief Bill Thompson said. "Obviously, we've made them aware that it's a possibility. Nobody wants that. The companies don't want it, certainly the crews don't. It's a hassle for everybody involved, but at the same time we recognize that there is a need here locally to make sure that vehicular travel can still move."

With the law removed, trains would be legally able to stop at an intersection indefinitely. But that doesn't mean police are going to let that happen.

"Then we'll go out and we'll actually try to make contact with the train crew," Thompson said.

With blocked intersections, it may seem like a challenge for emergency responders to be able to do their job, but they say there's always another road.

"Usually as soon as one of the first arriving companies realizes there's a train there, then they're on the radio letting dispatch know, and other companies and they know not to go that way," South Bend Fire Captain Gerard Ellis said.

But taking those paths may delay their response time, which can mean life or death situations.

"We're trying to take care of the patient, whether it be a medical call or if we're going to a structure fire, minutes and seconds count," Ellis said. "So those delays will affect our response time."

St. Joseph County Police say they only encounter a few blocked trains each year, mostly out in rural areas, where there isn't heavy traffic.

If the law stays as is, the railway says its trains will have to run at higher speeds, operate shorter trains more frequently or temporarily pull trains apart at crossings if they are blocking an intersection.