CP rail train

A Canadian Pacific car marked with graffiti sits stalled on the railway in La Crescent. 

The La Crescent Police Department is continuing to write citations against Canadian Pacific Railway for blocking public crossings for longer than 10 minutes in an effort to put pressure on the railroad company to solve a longstanding problem.

Police Chief Doug Stavenau said that Minnesota statute limits the length of time a train can block a public crossing to 10 minutes, but Canadian Pacific trains regularly stop at crossings in La Crescent for longer than that. He said that when issues arise from the blockages, the police department ends up fielding complaints from frustrated citizens and businesses.

Stavenau said that after he made concerns about the issue public in the Houston County News last fall, the department got some compliance from Canadian Pacific on the issue, but it only lasted for a couple of months.

“Back in October we did get a few months of them working with us, but now here we are in January with the same issues,” said Stavenau.

Canadian Pacific was issued a violation on Jan. 11 for blocking the Main Street and Sycamore Street crossing, and the department contacted the railroad the following day for blocking the crossing at Sycamore Street and U.S. 14/61 N. The last citation issued to Canadian Pacific was on Jan. 16 for blocking the public crossing at Main Street and Sycamore Street once again. The citations cost Canadian Pacific $175 with court costs included, and Stavenau said the company does not contest the tickets.

According to records from the police department, in 2017 Canadian Pacific trains were reported for blocking public crossings on 14 different occasions.

The police chief said that on the night of Jan. 20, a Canadian Pacific train was blocking the crossing in front of the La Crescent Animal Rescue for almost an hour, resulting in a shelter volunteer to call the police department and Mayor Mike Poellinger to voice her frustration. The crossing in front of the animal shelter is private and regulated differently than the public ones, but Stavenau said the public crossings were also potentially deterred.

“I have no doubt that if that private crossing was blocked, that the Main Street crossing was also blocked,” he said. “But because it was a Saturday evening, no one needed to use it, therefore we weren’t getting complaints about it.”

Back in October, railroad spokesman Andy Cummings said that Canadian Pacific was seeking to engage more directly with the city to resolve the repeated blockages, but Stavenau said the department is still finding it difficult to find contacts willing to help or listen to their complaints. He said the department has the contact information for the dispatch center responsible for trains traveling on the La Crescent rails, but they don’t get far with the personnel.

“They get really testy with us when they hear it’s us calling,” he said. “I’ve encountered those kinds of attitudes and opinions, at least, and that’s where the disconnect really comes into play.”

Stavenau believes the dispatch center treats the complaints with little concern because the managers are not phased by a police department in a different state. The police chief even said that after the department has communicated directly with the dispatch center, he’s been informed of complaints lodged against them for not using Canadian Pacific’s Community Connect line. He said the department has no issue with using the Community Connect line, but it’s an automated service that rarely results in a response.

“When you leave a message, there is no return call or follow through,” Stavenau said of the Community Connect line. “So to me, that is basically the equivalent of me opening the back door of the police department and talking to the wind, expecting something to happen.”

In a statement from Canadian Pacific released on Tuesday, Cummings said the company “continues to welcome a dialogue with the City of La Crescent.”

“We have provided the chief of police with the cell phone number of our La Crosse-based trainmaster so he can raise issues with us in real time,” Cummings added.

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Houston County News reporter

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