Grain trains a pain

Trains stopping to load at Clyde co-op block major highways through town -- sometimes for hours CLYDE Steve Keegan dri
JACOB LAMMERS
May 24, 2010

Trains stopping to load at Clyde co-op block major highways through town -- sometimes for hours

CLYDE

Steve Keegan drives to work at Whirlpool every day and usually anticipates a little traffic.

Yet for the last six months, grain trains have blocked major crossings, preventing him and his fellow co-workers from getting to work on time.

Norfolk Southern Railroad loads its trains with grain at Country Spring Farmers Co-Op in Clyde. While the cars are loaded, the trains tend to block major crossings, which can include U.S. 20, Ohio 101 and Ohio 510, Keegan said.

Norfolk Southern spokesman Rudy Husband said the railroad company was not aware there was problem in Clyde until Friday.

"We were not aware that anybody was complaining about train operations in Clyde," Husband said. "It's hard to correct a problem when you don't know it exists."

Clyde Councilman Ken Dick has been hearing complaints from Whirlpool employees and several city residents.

"You can sit anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours," Dick said. "This happens frequently enough it causes huge traffic jams."

Blocked railroad crossings happen, but it's the time that's the problem. Norfolk Southern typically blocks crossings throughout the day, which can cause problems for Whirlpool employees changing shifts at 7 a.m., 3 p.m. and 11 p.m.

"I don't have a problem with the railroad or the grain elevator," Keegan said. "I have a problem with the time that they're moving those cars around."

Dick and Keegan, also a Clyde councilman, said they want Norfolk Southern to change the time they load grain to later at night.

"There are better times to do it," Dick said. "Three a.m. would be perfect. There's nobody on the road."

George Secor, CEO and president of Country Spring Farmers Co-Op, said Norfolk Southern runs its own schedule with little input from the grain company.

"We have zero say when they get there," Secor said. "We load them as fast as we can. We have no idea when they're coming or going."

Several years ago, local police departments could cite railroads every five minutes if they are blocking an intersection and not moving, Clyde Police Chief Bruce Gower said.

In 2000, railroad companies went to the state government and had the law changed since it was getting expensive for the companies to pay these fines.

The law now reads railroad companies can only be cited one time for the same circumstance, according to Ohio Revised Code 5589.21.

"We get tons of calls when it happens, and there's nothing we can do about it," Gower said. "They're federally regulated, so we have no jurisdiction over the train."

Secor has made attempts to contact Norfolk Southern to see if the railroad company can transport grain trains outside of the major shifts at Whirlpool.

"They have agreed to sit down and look at the issue," Secor said. "I'm guessing sometime in September. They're at least willing to listen to us."

Husband said Norfolk Southern officials will do what they can to solve the problem.

"We will certainly do what we can to change our service time if that's what the grain mill wants," Husband said. "If that alleviates the problem, then great."

Clyde City Manager Dan Weaver remains cautiously optimistic.

"That's promising to hear that," Weaver said. "We'll see what happens. If they do that, it will solve the problem overnight."

While the grain trains have caused blocked crossings, they are a sign of a booming economy in Clyde.

In the last six years, Country Spring Farmers pumped about $5 million into the Clyde facility. On a yearly basis the facility handles 12-14 million bushels of corn, soybeans and wheat.