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How long can a still train block an intersection?

todayMay 9, 2024 4

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Vehicles should never sit more than five minutes waiting for a stopped train at a crossing in Sioux Falls, according to a city ordinance.

City code 130.006 says “It shall be unlawful for the directing officer or the operator of any railroad train or car to direct the operation of or to operate the train or car in a manner as to prevent unnecessarily the use of any street for purposes of travel for a period of time longer than five minutes, except that this section shall not apply to trains or cars in continuous motion.”

“(Trains) pretty much don’t do that,” city principal engineer Wes Philips said. Generally, trains are not stopped blocking an intersection, he said.

A longer train may take several minutes to pass through an intersection. Or a train may be backing up and moving forward as it couples or uncouples with cars on a side rail.

But even the backing up and moving forward is less often than it was several years ago because the city moved the main railyard from the city’s downtown to an area on Rice Street.

Philips said the downtown area, such as the crossings on 6th and Minnesota, are busy areas for the trains that do pass through the city. So is the crossing on Cliff Avenue near Avera Health, between the intersection of 26th Street and 18th Street. The city also has crossings on 14th Street west of Cliff Avenue toward Phillips Avenue.

“The intersection on Cliff would see more trains than the one on 14th,” Philips said.

“Occasionally, if there is a long train, we hear concerns,” Philips said.

The train companies generally self-regulate their use of the tracks, the city can’t say what times and where they pass through.

“We don’t have a ton of control of it,” Philips said. Trains will pass through the city during rush hour but they are also aware that vehicles are waiting for them to pass, Philips said.

The city has an ordinance on blocking intersections and so does the state. But enforcement of the ordinances may not happen often.

State law 49-16A-119 said trains cannot block a crossing for more than 20 consecutive minutes.

 The law reads: “A standing railroad engine or car may not occupy or block any street, road, or highway grade crossing for more than twenty consecutive minutes if the path of any emergency vehicle making an emergency trip is blocked by the railroad engine or car, unless it is disabled, by accident or otherwise and cannot be moved without striking any object or person on track. A violation of this section by a railroad corporation is a Class 2 misdemeanor.”

Huron police say threat to public is over

Brad Reiners of the South Dakota Department of Public Safety, said the highway patrol can enforce the state law but it’s more likely that city or county law enforcement would enforce it.

Philips said it’s difficult for the city to enforce its five-minute ordinance in large part because it is rare that a train is stopped at an intersection for five minutes without moving. And therefore, it’s not a priority, he said.

The re-location of the downtown railyard is one example of how the city worked with railroads. The city also worked with BNSF on a new rail crossing on Minnesota Avenue near the downtown.

Sioux Falls is now working with BNSF to reduce the train whistles that blow as a train passes through the downtown, Philips said.

“The whistle sounds for miles when it goes off,” Philips said. The need to reduce the number of train whistles downtown was identified as more the population density grew, he said.

“There are so many more people living and working near the tracks,” Philips said.

The first step is to replace the 6th Street cross downtown with an arms crossing. The next step will be to add an arm crossing at 8th. As arm crossings are installed it will reduce the need for train whistles to alert traffic and pedestrians of an approaching train.

The new 6th Street crossing should be completed this summer. Other crossings will follow in a multi-year process.

Written by: The Dam Rock Station

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