The city of La Crescent is seeing some progress in its efforts to alleviate the problem of Canadian Pacific Railway trains blocking public and private railroad crossings for long periods of time.
So far this year, La Crescent police have issued four citations against the company for blocking public crossings for longer than the 10 minutes allowed under state law in Minnesota. The city issued one citation against the railroad company last year. The penalty for the citations is a $100 fine and $75 in court fees.
Businesses and residents of La Crescent have long complained about trains blocking crossings, in some cases for hours at a time. But La Crescent Police Chief Doug Stavenau said he has noticed an improvement in the problem.
“It has been much better regarding the blocking of the public crossing at Main Street and I have seen an effort on behalf of the railroad to minimize the time they are blocking,” Stavenau said. “There are still occasions, but the length of time seems to have been reduced.”
The chief said his department has received 31 complaints of trainings blocking both private and public crossings in La Crescent over the last 12 months.
State law isn’t applicable to private rail crossings, such as the one near the La Crescent Animal Rescue center and the city’s public works facility.
“We have been working with Canadian Pacific to educate the dispatchers to stop the trains south of town while waiting to get on the higher priority north/east line,” Stavenau said. “I am seeing about 50 percent voluntary compliance from the railroad.”
Despite the improvements, the city still has concerns about the problems posed by trains blocking crossings for long periods of time.
“There are still emergency response and business efficiency concerns with the private crossings on the south end,” Stavenau said.
He added that his department would continue to work to try and minimize any disruption to the public caused by trains blocking crossings.
Andy Cummings, a spokesman for Canadian Pacific, said the company's local managers have been talking to the city to "to fully understand the nature of the issues raised." He added that the company would keep lines of communication open to deal with any future issues.
"Trains stopping in the La Crescent area can be engaged in numerous activities, including picking up or setting out railcars or locomotives," Cummings said. "These activities often require adherence to strict federal safety regulations that have varying time requirements."
Meanwhile, the city has sent a notice of intent to the Federal Railroad Administration to establish a railroad quiet zone at public crossings in the city. The project would mean improving safety mechanisms at crossings, which would exempt train operators from having to sound their horns, as required by law.
City administrator Bill Waller said the city is still waiting for a response to the notice from the Federal Railroad Administration.