‘Traffic last week was insane’: Olmsted Falls supports raising fines when trains block streets

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OLMSTED FALLS, Ohio (WJW) – A Northeast Ohio community says it is fed up with freight trains blocking streets at railroad crossings for long periods of time.

Tuesday night, the Olmsted Falls City Council unanimously passed a resolution in support of legislation that would increase fines for railroad companies.

Freight trains constantly roll through the city of Olmsted Falls, but residents said too many times they stop in their tracks for long periods of time, blocking major intersections and inconveniencing residents.

“It affects me every week. I’m late to work multiple times since I’ve moved here. It’s so normal here, though,” said resident Brenna Dolan, who lives on Mapleway Drive.

House Bill 361 would increase fines for railroad companies if trains block intersections for more than five minutes.

“Up to $5,000 for the first offense, $10,000 after that because in our city alone, over the last three years, we’ve had to give out 157 citations for stopped trains,” said Olmsted Falls Mayor Jim Graven.

Graven said last Wednesday, a Norfolk Southern freight train was stopped, blocking four intersections in the city for five and a half hours.

“We understand if there’s a mechanical breakdown, but seems like they just stop for a shift change or things like that in our town,” Graven said.

“I couldn’t believe the traffic that happened. I work in Westlake and to get back home, it was just absolutely crazy. The crossing was blocked from here all the way to Berea, so four different crossings were impacted and it was closed for like six hours, so I think it needs to be taken really seriously,” said resident Devon Skunta-Helmink.

The House Bill is being sponsored by two legislators from southern Ohio.

The Olmsted Falls mayor said last March, he wrote a letter to the Railroad Commission. He supports the increased fines because he believes the current law is not having much of an impact.

“Only $150 plus court costs, so three years, 157 citations. The railroad paid all of them, but it’s only approximately $28,000 and to the railroad, it’s just a drop in the bucket,” said the mayor.

In a statement to FOX 8, Connor Spielmaker, media relations manager for Norfolk Southern, said the railroad is looking into last week’s incident.

“We never want to inconvenience any member of the community with a stopped train. Trains stop for a variety of reasons, such as mandated rest periods, to comply with federal regulations and ensure the safe operation of a train. Our scheduling teams make every effort to minimize these impacts and we prioritize getting and keeping trains moving safely. Whenever we are made aware of recurring issues in a particular community, we work to find a solution to keep things moving. We always value our local partners and the communities we operate in and look forward to continuing to solve problems by building up those relationships.”

“When there’s a blockage, it affects a lot of people. The traffic last week was insane,” said Skunta-Helmink.

There’s no word on exactly when the bill will come up for a vote in the Ohio Statehouse.

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