The number of hours a crew can work on a train are limited by federal rules, and can contribute to blockages of railroad crossings. In some cases, this causes emergency responders to have to find detours, which could endanger people waiting for an ambulance.
According to one public safety official in Indiana, delays at railroad crossings are inconvenient for drivers, but those delays can be a public safety hazard as well. In a case where someone is not breathing, a few minutes’ difference could be the difference between life and death.
Laws in several states set a limit of ten minutes for trains to block railroad crossings. There is often a $500 fine for violations. Railroad companies whose trains block roads for several hours can receive a new fine every ten minutes in some cases.
This problem is made worse by federal rules that limit the shift of a train crew to 12 hours. When rail workers run through those 12 hours, they have to stop the train immediately.
A spokesman for CSX said last week that the company attempts to schedule routes so that train crews do not stop in areas that affect road traffic.
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Local authorities often are frustrated when railroad companies do not inform them that trains are going to stop and block roads. In one case in Indiana, a train blocked a major road for three hours because the federal rule mandated they must stop operating after 12 hours.
While trains stopping on railroad tracks is a problem that should be avoided, limits on hours that train crews can work is a good idea. There were 9232 train accidents in 2008, and 637 fatalities. At least some of those were caused by exhausted train crews that were overworked. Fewer train accidents and deaths will occur if train engineers can only work 12 hours at a time. Railroad companies just need to do more to make sure that the trains do not block roads.