The bridge over the Vermilion River hasn’t even been closed for two weeks, yet drivers have already become frustrated. Not only is “drive time” from point A to point B maddening, but trains all-out blocking those crossings makes those behind the wheel want to scream. To add insult to injury, Service Director Tony Valerius announced at Monday’s Vermilion City Council meeting that the Main Street railroad crossing will be closed Nov. 1 for at least two days for routine maintenance. This will be followed by the Vermilion Road crossing on Nov. 8, and Grand Street on Nov. 9.
Valerius told council he has informed emergency services and asked that the railroad work with the city to make sure the loop detectors are not damaged during the improvement work.
Vermilion Police Chief Chris Hartung said the crossing at Sunnyside has been blocked quite a bit recently, and the crossing at Vermilion Road was blocked right after they closed the bridge. “When Vermilion Road was blocked, they were in the process of moving four trains around. I would attribute this increase to the volume of backed up goods coming into the country. I’m only guessing.”
Hartung said in 2017, Erie County Judge Paul Lux issued a ruling that said municipalities cannot enforce blocked train crossing, and no municipality has been successful in winning against the railroad over this issue. “There’s currently a case before the Ohio Supreme Court over this very issue with Union County, but I doubt it’s going to go our way,” said Hartung. “I believe the Federal Railway Administration and the Interstate Commerce Commission are the only two bodies that can currently address these issues and they don’t seem to be overly concerned with our inconvenience.”
The Lux decision, issued Jan. 30, 2017, in the case of the State of Ohio vs. Norfolk Southern, Lux wrote, “This court concludes the State of Ohio’s blocked crossing statute (R.C. 5589.21) is preempted by federal law.” R.C. 5589.21 prohibits trains from blocking a public grade crossing for longer than five minutes. Lux wrote that since October 2001, the enforceability of state and municipal blocked crossing legislation has been considered by numerous courts, both federal and state throughout the country, and in each instance, this legislation has been determined to be preempted by federal law.