Officials: blocked crossing becomes a nuisance

EAST LIVERPOOL — City officials are hoping something can be done to keep trains from blocking the Putnam Street crossing after last week’s incidents that kept people from getting out of the Klondyke area of the East End.

Mayor Ryan Stovall told council this week he and patrolman Rob Smith went to the crossing just after 10 a.m. last Thursday after receiving calls that a train was blocking the crossing.

“There is no denying there is a train that was blocking the crossing. Apparently it had been there for about 20 minutes, just stopped,” Stovall said.

He said he still doesn’t have answers for why that train — and a second one later that day — were stopped there.

He said that once he and Smith approached the engineer to explain that the crossing was the only exit out of that neighborhood because of the Elizabeth Street bridge closure, the train immediately moved up the tracks.

Later that day, the city again was inundated with calls from residents stuck in traffic for another train.

Stovall said he called the Ohio Rail Commission and was then directed to the government affairs office in Columbus.

He said the man he spoke with in Columbus was familiar with the bridge being out and notified the railroad dispatch leader to keep trains from stopping at the crossing.

Stovall also reached out to U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson’s office.

“I am waiting to hear back from him to get involved so that we make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he said.

In the meantime, Stovall said he and Councilman Ray Perorazio have discussed the possibility of allowing the Elizabeth Street bridge to be open to emergency vehicles only in the event that the railroad crossing is blocked again.

Fire Chief Bill Jones said he didn’t want a fire truck crossing the bridge, as he did not think it would be safe.

The bridge was closed in January of 2017 upon the recommendation of the Ohio Department of Transportation based on an inspection by an outside engineering firm.

Perorazio said he would like to see a sign posted stating the bridge is for emergency use only and all others are traveling at their own risk and would be prosecuted.

He argued that people who would need to get out in an emergency, or who are needing to get to the hospital, should have an exit if the train crossing is blocked.

“If I have a heart attack … if it’s a medical thing, how can you stop me from going?” he said.

Others on council were worried about the liability of allowing the public to use their own discretion.

Councilman Brian Kerr suggested assessing a penalty against trains that block the crossing.

“The trains have gotten longer, and slower … I don’t want to be part of this issue if something does happen. Thank God there hasn’t been an emergency situation where someone’s life has been in danger,” he said.

Council asked Law Director Charles Payne to look into the liability situation and report back on what can or cannot be done as far as posting any signs at the bridge.

In the meantime, Stovall encouraged the public to call the 800 phone number listed on the blue placard at the railroad crossing if a train is found blocking the crossing, or contract Johnson’s office.