FORTVILLE — A parked train blocked four of Fortville’s five railroad crossings for more than 20 hours recently, snarling traffic and frustrating town officials who were powerless to do anything about it.
Fortville is one of three towns in Hancock County that experience train traffic. Emergency responders rely on travelers in those towns to keep them abreast of closed-off crossings so they can be prepared and adapt when necessary.
Bill Knauer, Fortville’s police chief, said the police department’s day shift first noticed the parked CSX train when they started at 6 a.m. on June 29. Reports indicated it didn't move until around 3:45 a.m. om June 30.
Libby Wyatt, who’s running unopposed for a council seat and who owns an ice cream and gift shop just north of the railroad crossing on Main Street, said she watched traffic back up near the intersection throughout the day on Saturday. Vehicles, including semitrailer trucks, reversed in the middle of the street to turn around in search of alternate routes, she continued.
“We need signage, we need something, because it was dangerous,” Wyatt said.
She reported seeing pedestrians crawling under the train to cross the tracks as well. Fritz Fentz, a Fortville Town Council member, said he saw people cross between the train cars, too.
Knauer said the police department notified CSX of the blockage eight times.
“They are allowed to operate that train for X amount of hours, and when they reach that cutoff, they stop, they don’t care where,” he said.
He added the train company did not have another crew scheduled to take the previous one’s place.
“It’s poor planning, for lack of better words, on their part, and it happens way too frequently in this community and we can’t do a thing about it,” Knauer said.
CSX did not return a request for comment for this story.
“They essentially cut our town in half,” Knauer said.
The barriers pile time onto emergency responses, he continued.
“Seconds count,” Knauer said. “You’re talking about going miles out of the way because they have poor planning. It puts our community at risk.”
He said law enforcement used to be able to issue citations for trains blocking crossings until a federal court put an end to the practice.
“I understand the frustration of the community, and I wish to heck I could do something about it, but I can’t. My hands are tied,” Knauer said. “They know our hands are tied and they don’t care, to be quite honest. That’s very frustrating and wrong as far as I’m concerned.”
Greg Duda, public information officer for the Hancock County 911 Center, said dispatchers usually find out about trains blocking crossings from a member of the public calling in. When that happens, dispatchers call the train company responsible. It’s almost always the same answer, Duda said: The train is waiting for a train ahead of it to get out of the way. Sometimes, a mechanical problem has stalled the train, he added.
While the 911 center doesn’t currently keep statistics on blocked train crossings, Duda said it’s considering tracking them starting next year to see if any patterns result.
Those who sign up for Smart911 can stay ahead of blocked train crossings. While the free service’s primary purpose is to supply emergency dispatchers with information on a 911 caller the moment a call is answered, it also allows dispatchers to send traffic alerts to users.
The Hancock County 911 Center also posts traffic alerts on its Facebook page. The center encourages members of the public to reach out via Facebook when they see traffic obstructions like parked trains in front of crossings.
“We like people to report to us,” Duda said. “It may be the first time we’ve heard of it.”