Stalled train traps people in homes for 3 days
An exclusive follow up to a story 5 On Your Side brought you earlier this year.
Delayed trains have been trapping people in their Collinsville neighborhood for days at a time. And now, 5 On Your Side learns it's also happening in Highland.
Many residents of Highland, Ill., are used to the train coming by, even stopping once in a while.
But lately, they tell us it's been blocking them off from their homes, fields, and in some cases, elderly family members for days at a time.
"It's getting kind of scary," said Barb Huelsmann, a Highland farm owner.
For three days, farmers like the Huelsmanns have waited for a CSX train to move. On the other side-- a goat farm, acres of crops and trapped family members.
"My mom, she's across the tracks in her house with my granddaughter. They can't get out unless they crawl underneath or over the train," said Huelsmann.
"We have loaded trucks on one side of the track, empty trucks on the other side. Can't get 'em through. You know how it is for a farmer when you stop harvest," said Scott Frey, a farmer.
Residents said a train has been stopped on Farm Lane Road for as long as 36 hours just last month. This past weekend, it was stopped on the road for 14 hours.
They're worried if there's an emergency on the other side of the tracks, crews won't be able to get there.
"People could fall off the tractors, get run over, there's combines back there. I'm scared to death someone is going to get hurt," said Huelsmann.
5 On Your Side found this train is owned by CSX Rail, the same company that has repeatedly blocked in an entire subdivision in Collinsville for hours at a time.
"They would say, 'Well the crew is not here,' or, 'We'll talk to the dispatcher.' Well today, they haven't been able to reach the dispatcher all day long," said Huelsmann.
"They've done things they shouldn't have already, and so we want to ask you to help get something done about it," said Charlie Meier, State Representative for the 108th District.
Meier is all too familiar with CSX Rail.
Just a few miles from the Highland farmers, Meier showed us more CSX train cars left to languish behind an Aviston school.
"Town kids are crawling on them. Playing on them. [CSX] moved them on tracks where the signals are all sideways and they're not hooked up to any electric. So there's no warning as they move these cars in and they didn't block the crossing," said Meier.
And it turns out, there was a law on the books in Illinois limiting how long a train could block a crossing, but it was overturned by the Illinois Supreme Court almost 10 years ago.
Meier is now hoping to try for a new law, once session begins again.
In the meantime, local farmers are taking a 'look and see' approach, hoping for the best.
"If we're not able to plant crops there, we're not able to get income and pay our farm payment," said Huelsmann.
Meier is also enlisting the help of Congressman John Shimkus to look at possible federal legislation.
CSX issued this statement from Rob Doolittle, assistant vice president of media and communications:
CSX extends its apologies to residents who were impacted by blocked crossings in the Highland community over a several day period at the end of July. Local CSX managers are working to make adjustments to procedures in the area to help alleviate delays that sometimes occur. CSX understands that our operations can impact the communities where we operate, and we work hard to minimize those effects. Should residents encounter these issues again, we encourage them to contact us at CSX.COM/TELLCSX.
As it relates to train cars in Aviston, CSX is temporarily storing empty rail cars on sections of track between Aviston and Flora, IL. While regular train service was discontinued on this line more than a year ago, the tracks remain safe for this use. Safety is CSX's highest priority, and should trains be traveling at a low rate of speed, motorists will be warned of approaching trains by CSX employees on foot using flags and flares to stop traffic while trains pass, in compliance with federal crossing-protection rules and our own high safety standards.
Playing on or near railroad property is extremely dangerous. Pedestrians and drivers should stay alert and remain far away from them.