Long Waits at Railway Crossings

Much has been written in the past few years about the long waits at road-railway crossings, especially with railway companies in North America forming longer and slower-moving trains. There are many complaints in Canada and the United States about road traffic being blocked for up to an hour. Blocked railway crossings are not only an inconvenience for hundreds of thousands of North Americans daily, but also pose a significant risk to emergency vehicle response times (e.g., ambulances, fire trucks, police vehicles).

For example, on August 8, 2012, a Canadian National Railway freight train traveling north on the Camrose main line southeast of Edmonton blocked the crossing at Township Road 515 next to our home in Strathcona County, Alberta from 6:40 a.m. to 7:22 a.m., a full 42 minutes. During all but 4 minutes of this period, the train was at a complete stop. (A photo of the blocked road is included with this blog.) There were numerous vehicles waiting at the crossing which eventually turned around and found alternate routes to their destination. This road has been blocked many times in the past by CN freight trains, particularly since a joint CN Rail/ Cando Contracting Ltd./ Imperial Oil Ltd. rail yard was built right next to the crossing 2 years ago. (Township Road 515 is a public road and school bus route.)

Unfortunately there appears to be no clear legislation, either in Canada or the United States, that limits the amount of time a train is allowed to block a crossing. There are, however, non-legislated rules or suggestions. For example in Canada, Canadian Rail Operating Rules section 103(d) reads: “Except at those public crossings indicated in special instruction, no part of a movement may be allowed to stand on any part of a public crossing at grade, for a longer period than five (5) minutes, when vehicular or pedestrian traffic requires passage. Switching operations at such crossing must not obstruct vehicular or pedestrian traffic for a longer period than five (5) minutes at a time. When emergency vehicles require passage, employees must cooperate to quickly clear the involved crossings.”  However, a train that is moving slowly – i.e., not stopped – is not considered in violation of this rule and can block the crossing for much longer than 5 minutes.

In the United States, the Uniform Vehicle Code suggests that trains not block crossings for more than 5 minutes except under special circumstances. The majority of states place some restrictions on the amount of time a highway-rail crossing can be blocked – in no case does this exceed 20 minutes. (See Federal Railroad Administration Fact Sheet for details.)

Neither the Canadian Rail Operating Rules nor the U.S. Uniform Vehicle Code is binding, so it really is up to each rail company to determine how long its employees are permitted to block road-railway crossings. This is small comfort to those people, including emergency responders, who get stuck daily waiting for trains at railway crossings.

See this link for a report on CN Rail getting fined for under-reporting its blocked crossing statistics to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

~ by railroaded on August 9, 2012.

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