APD now powerless when trains block Crosse-ing

By Jason Hawk - jhawk@aimmediamidwest.com

Police can no longer issue tickets when trains block Amherst railroad crossings.

The city’s problem spot is Crosse Road just north of Rt. 2, where officers wrote citations seven times in the first six months of 2017, according to records kept by the newspaper.

In each instance, a train sat on the tracks and kept the way closed to motorists for at least 20 minutes, according to police. Most were during morning commute times.

We recently learned assistant law director Frank Carlson issued a memo this summer to police chief Joseph Kucirek saying officers can no longer charge the Norfolk & Southern Railroad because of a pair of federal court rulings.

For years, the prosecutor’s office had an informal agreement that the railroad company would plead no contest to one in every four first-degree misdemeanor charges of blocking the road and pay the minimum fine of $1,000.

In return, the three other citations would be dropped.

In a pretrial with counsel for the railroad, Carlson learned Norfolk & Southern was no longer willing to play ball.

That’s because in one ruling, CSX Transportation won a suit against the city of Defiance after claiming it shouldn’t have to pay tickets for blocking roads.

Judge James Carr of the United States District Court of Northeast Ohio said the federal Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995 trumps local and state laws governing trains.

So now Amherst police can ask an engineer to move a train found blocking Crosse Road — but they lack the authority to order it to move, said both Carlson and law director Tony Pecora.

Police are worried about being impeded when responded to an emergency, which could also affect fire engine and ambulance access. “It leaves the city in an uncomfortable place,” Carlson said, agreeing with those concerns.

“Certainly, those decisions are not helpful for the city when (it) wants to put some sort of consequence on the railroads,” Pecora said.

The only recourse for Amherst and other Ohio cities is to challenge the ruling in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Carlson said he does not believe that would prove effective, though.

“I think maybe some people ought to ask their congressmen — why don’t you establish some kind of sanctions for blocking local railroad crossings? They could do it at the federal end but they can’t do it locally,” he said.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

By Jason Hawk