Mt. Vernon Register-News

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March 23, 2013

Railroad causes traffic snarls

MT. VERNON — Trains blocking the Fifth Street crossing of Main and Broadway streets have caused motorists headaches at least two evenings this week.

Wednesday evening, motorists were caught at the crossings, which remained closed for almost an hour. Then again Thursday, about 4:30 p.m., a train blocked the intersections for an hour again.

“We can’t cite them for blocking traffic,” Mt. Vernon Police Chief Chris Mendenall said. “There was a court ruling in an Appellate Court up north two years ago where a railroad was cited by the police for blocking the crossing for more than 30 minutes. They appealed, and the law was overturned. We do not have statutory authority to cite them any more.”

The track in question is owned by the Norfolk Southern Railroad, and attempts to gain comment about the cause of the problem, however railroad officials did not return calls on Friday.

Mendenall said when the tracks are blocked for extended periods of time, emergency personnel are in the same position as other motorists.

“We have to go around like anyone else,” Mendenall said. “And, like everyone else, we don’t know where the intersections are blocked. We just have to find it like everyone else.”

Mendenall said for medical emergencies and for fires, the Mt. Vernon Fire Department has a station located on the east side of the tracks and stations located on the west side of the tracks to respond.

“They can get there quickly, and paramedics can help with treatment in a health emergency, but to get the ambulance there to get someone to the hospital, it adds a lot of time to find the railroad crossing that can be crossed then get them to the hospital. It’s getting to be a real problem.”

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