School board, city officials talk blocked crossings

Jan. 13—CONNEAUT — Officials from the city and the school district discussed how to solve issues caused by blocked railroad crossings at a joint meeting on Wednesday night.

The two entities discussed concerns about students at Conneaut High School climbing over or under portions of railroad cars to bypass stopped trains.

Conneaut Area City Schools Superintendent Lori Riley said the district has received phone calls from people concerned about the issue, with the number of calls depending on how often trains are stopped at the crossing during arrival and dismissal.

"We address it as we see it," Riley said.

City Council President Jon Arcaro asked if the Conneaut Human Resources Center would be able to place a camera somewhere on the property, pointed at the crossing, to see when students attempt to cross the tracks when a train is stopped.

Recently, there was a call with staff from Congressman Dave Joyce's office, Norfolk and Southern staff, City Manager Jim Hockaday and others, trying to come up with a solution.

"Basically, there are a couple of different things," Hockaday said.

One possible solution is a raised pedestrian crossing near the High School, he said.

"I don't think we would do vehicular and pedestrian, just because of the cost," Hockaday said. "I would assume every elevated grade crossing that includes vehicular is probably in the neighborhood of $15 to 25 million, at this point.

"It's substantial. Parrish Road was, I believe, $15 million, and that was done quite some time back."

A pedestrian crossing would be $2.5 to 3.5 million, Hockaday said.

One other potential solution would be for the railroad to split the train to allow the Mill Street crossing open, he said.

"That's an extra cost to them, obviously," Hockaday said.

He asked the district to provide the city with a log of times the Mill Street crossing is blocked.

Board member Russ Coltman said he had previously seen students ducking between train cars.

Board Member Penny Armeni said she regularly sees the Mill Street crossing blocked when students are making their way to Conneaut High School in the morning.

Riley asked if railroad personnel know and work around event.

During D-Day Conneaut, the crossing was blocked for nearly three hours, she said.

Another significant issue caused by blocked crossings is on Gore Road, where trucks attempting to go to Teijin Automotive Technologies, formerly Continental Structural Plastics, are forced to attempt to back out onto Route 20 when the crossing is blocked for a long period of time, Hockaday said.

"They're a just-in-time manufacturer for all the big three automotive manufacturers," he said. "So delays in deliveries and shipments is a really bad deal for them."

Trains stopped on railroad crossings has been an issue in Conneaut for years, but the problem has grown worse in recent months after the Ohio Supreme Court overturned an Ohio law allowing law enforcement to fine railroads if trains block crossings for extended periods of time.

Sixty-two cases in Conneaut Municipal Court were dismissed because of the decision.