Thursday, September 12, 2013
Janice Jordan's frustration picked up steam Thursday afternoon as a train rumbled over 21st Street in Wichita. Stuck behind the arms of the railroad crossing, she watched as the train and the time passed her by.
"This is ridiculous, it doesn't make any sense," Jordan said.
Jordan was on the way to the grocery store to pick up items for one of her clients. It wasn't the first time she's been stuck waiting for a train.
"I've actually had to wait a good 20 minutes. I timed it one time," Jordan said. "It kept backing up and going forward and slowing down, it's ridiculous."
Jordan is one of many Wichita drivers who say they're tired of getting railroaded into long wait times at rail crossings.
Many people wrote into KAKE News saying they've waited anywhere from a couple minutes to a couple hours. They asked us to find out if there's any limit on how long a train can hold up traffic.
The answer isn't as simple as one might think.
If the train is moving, even back and forth, chances are it's not violating any state law.
"If they're doing a switching operation that does not violate the statute. Just because the crossing is blocked does not violate the statute," said Mitch Sothers, Coordinating Engineer for the Kansas Department of Transportation. "It's a standing train that violates the statute."
In other words, the two state statutes only deal with trains that are completely stopped and blocking traffic.
The time limit for a train to be stopped and blocking traffic is 10 minutes unless there's an emergency or circumstance out of the railroad's control. Sothers says those circumstances often include weather disruptions like a snowstorm or a flood.
In the city of Wichita, city ordinance sets a five-minute limit for a train to be stopped and blocking traffic, city leaders said.
There is no state statute or city ordinance that limits the time a moving train can block traffic, according to both city and state leaders.
Many drivers say that concerns them, especially when it comes to ambulances and fire trucks trying to respond to emergencies.
Sedgwick County Emergency Communications leaders say they have extensive procedures in place to help assure there are minimal delays for emergency responders. That includes communicating with railroad companies, utilizing a mapping system, and placing units and their backing units on the same side of the tracks.
Emergency Communications also does receive complaints from 911 callers of slow trains and alerts all dispatchers accordingly.
Many drivers say they've heard that after a certain time period of waiting for a moving or stopped train, they're supposed to call 911. Government leaders say there's no such rule and they're not aware of any such suggestion to the public.
Leaders with Sedgwick County Emergency Communications say while people can call 911 in such a situation, they say there are probably better options.
For example, many railroads have their own police dispatch telephone number. There is often a railroad or rail line telephone number on or around the equipment at the railroad crossing. They just ask that in your effort to find the number you do not cross the tracks or put yourself in danger should the train start moving.
In the end, leaders say, the trains power local business and have a job to do. So, they'll hope you'll give them a break.
"I guess we have to learn how to be patient," Jordan said.
To read the statutes for yourself, please follow the links below.
Wichita City Ordinance: