By Gordon Hopkins
It is a familiar complaint in Jefferson County and one that, thus far, eludes an answer: blocked railroad crossings.
The matter came up most recently at a Jefferson County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, July 11, 2023. Kevin Banahan of the County’s Planning and Zoning Committee, complained, “We have an issue between Fairbury and Steele City, mainly between Endicott and Steele City, with Union Pacific Railroad. There’s two tracks there. There’s multiple property owners all the way from Endicott to Steele City. And there’s trains parked there a lot, all the time, denying us access to our property. Some of them have sat there for 24 hours or longer.”
Banahan said he has had multiple contacts with Union Pacific, to little avail.
“I’ve complained to the railroad. I called the number on the sign,” said Banahan. “I bet 50 times in the last few years.”
Commissioner Michael Dux echoed Banahan’s frustration, “We’ve had issues with the railroad in the past and we’ve never been able to resolve them.”
Banahan added, “And I guess I should have called my state senator and congressman about it. That’ll be my next move.”
A bill under consideration by the Nebraska Legislature would have amended Section 75-109 and required railroad companies to report instances of blocked train crossings. LB (Legislative Bill) 234, sponsored by Senator Lynn Walz, District 15, was heard this year by the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee. According to Walz, the purpose of collecting such data is to determine the true scope of the problem and how to address it, “While these stories are all too common, we don’t have the data to understand how common the issue is.”
That bill did not advance.
Traffic being delayed by trains blocking intersections for extended periods of time is not an uncommon problem in Nebraska.
This can be especially dangerous when those being delayed included emergency vehicles. January of this year, an oil tank near Fairbury’s defunct Municipal Power Plant caught fire.
Firefighters were delayed for several minutes by a train before reaching the blaze.
By Gordon Hopkins