Trains blocking roadway creates dangerous situations, first responders say
Cokeville, WY —
(KUTV) We have all experienced the hassle of a train rolling in and blocking the road on which we are traveling. For most of us that means a quick detour to the next road that isn't blocked. But here in Cokesville, Wyoming, it's not a quick detour.
The town of approximately 600 people has one road that cuts east and west. When it is blocked by a train, it means a detour of about 44 miles to driver around.
Cokeville Police Chief Mark Veirg says the train will sometimes sit for hours and hours, engineers refusing to budge even a few feet to allow traffic to pass.
Chief Veirg says it's more than a hassle. When the train blocks the road, it leaves students unable to get to or from school and blocks the access to the main highway people use to get to their jobs in neighboring towns.
It’s also a safety issue, says EMT Reane Tichert. The train blocks emergency services from reaching homes on the west side of the tracks. She shared several stories of being cut off from people in need including having to literally throw medical supplies from the ambulance over a parked train down to another EMT on a ATV to reach a baby that was struggling to breathe.
"If it doesn't change, it will cost a life,” she said. “It's getting worse and worse."
Chief Verig agrees.
"It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when somebody gets seriously hurt or injured because we can't get to them," he said.
Chief Verig says they have been trying to work with the train company, Union Pacific, asking them to be aware of the dangerous hassle they're creating and pleading with the corporate office to stop the trains somewhere else. He says he gets lip service, but the issue continues.
We began our investigation by looking into laws regarding trains. There are no federal regulations on how long a train can block a road, however, individual states have passed laws on their own.
For example, in Utah that law says a train can’t block a road for more than “five consecutive minutes.” There are exceptions for safety. If an object or a person is on the tracks, for example, the train is allowed to stop.
Utah’s law doesn’t help the people of Cokeville, Wyoming, and Wyoming has no law on the subject. A bill that would have limited trains blocking roadways failed in the Wyoming statehouse in 2009.
In a statement to Get Gephardt, Union Pacific states that the tracks though Cokeville provide a "critical route for exporting goods." Specifically, the Cokeville line provides a convenient spot for one train to park allowing another train to pass.
As for the safety concerns, Union Pacific wrote that "Safety is our no. 1 priority," adding concerned residents should call the company’s communications center to report incidents.
Get Gephardt also contacted the Federal Railroad Administration, a branch of the US Department of Transportation which is concerned with railroad safety. An administration official stated they will be working with Cokeville officials and Union Pacific to try and alleviate future concerns.