Legislation to change how long trains block railroad crossings

Published: Mar. 29, 2023 at 6:03 PM CDT
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O’KEAN, Ark. (KAIT) - A community that connects Greene, Lawrence, and Randolph County is well known for trains blocking its railroad crossings.

O’Kean is a town of 192 people, though much more travel through the area daily.

However, people often are forced to stop and wait on a train, and sometimes that wait turns into 30 minutes or even an hour.

Mayor Donna Robertson said that puts a strain on first responders.

Blocked crossings in O’Kean restrict access to roadways like Highway 90, Highway 34, and County Road 120.

“We have two intersections. They block both of them. We have to go all the way around on 304 through Delaplaine and come in if there’s emergencies,” Robertson said.

She explained the city’s fire department covers a large area, and it concerns her when the trains block the crossings for an extended period.

“Our fire department covers a five-mile radius, and if they’re blocked, we can’t go anywhere. We’re stuck. Then we have to depend on Pocahontas Fire Department to come in,” Robertson said.

That’s why lawmakers in the Arkansas House of Representatives want to change how long railroad crossings can be blocked by a train.

House Bill 1752 would make it unlawful for any railroad company to block a crossing for longer than 15 minutes.

Region 8 News sat at the County Road 120 crossing that remained blocked by trains for more than 15 minutes.

The legislation is something O’Kean resident Walter Ball is glad to see.

“I think 15 minutes, 10 to 15 minutes might not be that bad if that’s all they do. Sometimes the trains sit at the crossings overnight and the next day,” he said. “That crossing down there was blocked for two to three days once. It’s a handicap for a lot of people.”

Ball explained as a citizen of the town, it is worrisome to know that it might take extra time for others to receive help in an emergency.

“If we have to have a fire that way, we can’t go that way. We have to take the long way around. Most times, if this crossing is blocked, that one down there is blocked too, so you have to drive a good distance to get around that way, you can get to them,” he said.

House Bill 1752 is expected to appear before the House Public Transportation Committee on Thursday, March 29.