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First responder expresses concern about trains stopping on railroads, blocking routes

While trying to answer a call to a nursing home, instead of having to normally drive less than a mile, firefighters were forced to drive about five miles.

LYNDON, Ky. — In times of emergencies, time is always a factor.

The faster first responders can respond to a scene, the better.

However, in the city of Lyndon, there are four railroad crossings -- UPS Drive, Whipps Mill Road, Lyndon Lane and Washburn Avenue -- which can and have significantly delayed response times.

“If it’s blocked, then we either have to go around or we can call one of our other stations if they’re available,” Asst. Chief David Howser of St. Matthews Fire & Rescue said.

The Lyndon Fire Department and St. Matthews Fire & Rescue merged in July 2018.

One particular fire station facing challenges with long freight trains is Station 3.

Even when it’s moving, it could take a freight train a few minutes to clear a crossing, but when it’s completely stopped, that’s so much more than an inconvenience for firefighters and EMS.

“It takes time to turn around and go to a different crossing, come to find out that one’s blocked,” Howser said.

That’s exactly what happened the night of Dec. 27.

The fire truck from Station 3 was dispatched to Lyndon Woods Care and Rehab, a nursing home on Lyndon Lane less than a mile from the fire station.

“Perplexed and baffled by what I’m seeing,” Chris Bayer of Lyndon recollected.

So Bayer had pulled out his cell phone and video recorded the fire truck driving all the way up to the tracks and then turning around to head back to New La Grange Road.

“Interestingly, a minute later, an ambulance followed,” Bayer said.

The next option for the fire truck was to try to crossover on Washburn Avenue, but that was blocked as well.

Turning around again, firefighters then got onto the Watterson Expressway and got off on Westport Road, to eventually take a right onto Lyndon Lane, and finally arrive at the nursing home.

Instead of having to normally drive less than a mile, the fire truck was forced to drive about five miles.

On a normal day, that response time should have been only two to three minutes.

It was almost 10 minutes.

“It seems like a logistical fail to me,” Bayer said. “If you can’t prevent a train from stopping, which is one major question, at least inform who really need to know.”

First responders argue they should be first to know, but Howser said the railroads do not communicate with them.

“It’s sad that we don’t receive notifications that these trains are blocked,” he said.

It’s why several states have passed anti-blocking laws, only to get them overturned in court.

Kentucky had one such law, KRS 277.200, which allowed for railroads to be ticketed if they stopped and blocked crossings for more than five minutes.

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) sued in federal court and won in 2018.

The judge ruled the law unconstitutional, while citing the Federal Rail Safety Act.

According to AAR's website, the organization lists several ways railroads work with communities to reduce railroad crossing impacts.

“Railroads work closely with their own operational teams, community leaders, government partners, first responders and the public to manage and mitigate grade crossing impacts on communities,” AAR claimed.

However, the city of Lyndon as well as the fire department say CSX really hasn’t done anything to help.

Both Howser and Mayor Brent Hagan met with the railroad a few years ago.

When they brought up public safety concerns, specifically delays in emergency response times, Howser says the railroad’s answer was, “You have other crossings, it’s the way we operate now.”

“There was just nothing that CSX was willing to do for us,” Hagan added.

CSX did not respond to requests for an interview, while AAR declined those same requests.

An opportunity, however, is coming down the tracks.

Around $3 billion, with the potential for another $2.5 billion, have been allocated from the infrastructure law to help alleviate headaches with railroad crossings.

It’s called the Railroad Crossing Elimination Grant Program, and grants will be awarded over five years.

The money can be used for construction projects, including moving tracks or building overpasses and underpasses for motorist traffic.

However, the mayor believes anything underneath the tracks would flood, and said there’s not enough room with businesses on Lyndon Lane to go over them.

Instead, Hagan wants to apply for the federal money in different ways, such as warning signs with flashing lights indicating a crossing is blocked and/or some kind of integrated alert system tied in with emergency dispatch and first responders.

“The technology definitely has to be there,” Hagan said.

He also wants to have cameras installed at each crossing in Lyndon.

“Cameras would enable us to view real-time these crossings and know whether or not there was a train present,” Hagan said. “Seems like something we could do tomorrow.”

Applications for the first round of federal money are due Oct. 4.

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