2018-03-11 / News

Train blocks Lapeer road crossings for nearly 90 minutes Thursday morning

BY JEFF HOGAN
810-452-2640 • jhogan@mihomepaper.com


Traffic was backed up Thursday morning at Morris Road as an eastbound CN train slowly departed Lapeer after being stopped in the city for nearly 90 minutes following mechanical issues with the train. 
Photos by Jeff Hogan Traffic was backed up Thursday morning at Morris Road as an eastbound CN train slowly departed Lapeer after being stopped in the city for nearly 90 minutes following mechanical issues with the train. Photos by Jeff Hogan LAPEER — Thursday was a rough day for motorists in Lapeer that needed to cross the Canadian National (CN) Railroad tracks to get to work, school, get groceries or go anywhere north or south of the tracks that bisect the city.

The reason? A CN Railroad train for nearly 90 minutes was parked across every crossing in the city, from Lake Nepessing to Saginaw Street.

From a railroad office in Montreal, CN spokesman Patrick Waldron said the trouble began shortly after 8 a.m. when an eastbound train stopped to pick up several rail cars from a side track near Saginaw Street that serves local industry in Lapeer. “During that process the train experienced some mechanical issues with one of those cars,” said Waldron.


Pictured east of Morris Road in Lapeer Township, the CN Railroad train that caused a huge traffic backup in Lapeer Thursday morning makes its way out of town. Pictured east of Morris Road in Lapeer Township, the CN Railroad train that caused a huge traffic backup in Lapeer Thursday morning makes its way out of town. A CN ground crew was dispatched to the scene to make the necessary repairs. “After the car issue was fixed, the train had to be put back together. That process unfortunately took longer than we would have liked. We regret the inconvenience the train stoppage caused … The crews worked as quickly as they could, but unfortunately it took a little while to get it resolved.”

The train cleared the city of Lapeer at approximately 9:30 a.m.

While the stopped train across Main Street (M-24) was a huge frustration for those caught in the resultant backup, it was a potentially life-threatening issue for an ambulance crew was that on an emergency run headed southbound on M-24 when it encountered the traffic jam at the railroad track. Vic Martin, director of Lapeer County Central Dispatch, said at 8:15 a.m. 9-1-1 was notified that an ambulance was delayed by the stalled train.


A semi-truck on northbound Saginaw Street was parked for 90 minutes after a CN Railroad train blocked the roadway after mechanical issues developed while the train crew stopped in Lapeer to pick up several rail cars. 
Photos by Jeff Hogan A semi-truck on northbound Saginaw Street was parked for 90 minutes after a CN Railroad train blocked the roadway after mechanical issues developed while the train crew stopped in Lapeer to pick up several rail cars. Photos by Jeff Hogan “We dispatched another ambulance that was south of the tracks and it took the call,” said Martin. “When the train blocks the track for any amount of time it’s a problem, but when nearly the whole town is blocked by a train that’s a major problem. A lot of people were frustrated by this. There were backups throughout the city because of the train … Thankfully we didn’t have any other major incidents that morning that included another snowstorm and bad roads.”


Going nowhere fast, a nearly one mile-long train sits across Saginaw Street in Lapeer on Thursday. Going nowhere fast, a nearly one mile-long train sits across Saginaw Street in Lapeer on Thursday. The stopped train also caused havoc with the ability of Lapeer Community Schools to get students to school on time at Schickler Elementary and elsewhere. Linda Thompson, director of transportation for the district, said two buses (routes) were immediately impacted by the delay as they were caught in the traffic backups at railroad line crossings in Lapeer.

“Initially it was two buses, but it caused other problems because we had to move buses around to take care of the situation. It made for a tough morning,” said Thompson, who added there were four people in the bus garage office during the time of the train delay and they spent nearly the entire 90 minutes on the phone with parents who wanted to know where their childrens’ bus was. “It was crazy busy,” added Thompson.

She said to finish the route of one of the buses caught in traffic, a second bus was dispatched to complete the morning pick-ups north of the railroad track blocked by the train.

Like many people in the community Erick Pearson, director of the Lapeer County Road Commission, was frustrated by Thursday’s train delay calling it “absolutely ridiculous” that a train could block a major state highway (M-24) for 90 minutes and there appears there’s not a lot that can be done about it.

“I thought there were rules dealing with this,” said Pearson.

Keith Brown, Operations Engineer at the Michigan Dept. of Transportation’s Davison Transportation Service Center, sent out an email at 9:12 a.m. alerting local officials that a train was blocking M-24 in Lapeer. Most were well aware of the situation by then as text messages and cell phone photos of the stopped train were being shared throughout the community.

However, after contacting MDOT’s railroad section in Lansing, Brown found his hands and those of local officials were tied.

In 1994 Michigan’s legislature passed a law prohibiting trains from blocking intersections for more than five minutes. The state set a fine of $500 for each violation.

After amassing 892 citations, with potential fines exceeding $446,000, CSX railroad challenged the law in 1996 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan suing the City of Plymouth saying that state laws and local ordinances were pre-empted by federal laws and regulations and that they violated the Interstate Commerce clause of the Constitution.

The court sided with the railroad and then State Attorney General Jennifer Granholm appealed to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, but the court upheld the lower court ruling in 2002.

“The court ruled the state law was not valid,” Brown said. “Other than getting the word out, there’s not much we can do.”

Last October city officials in Plymouth complained after a CSX train blocked city streets for nine hours.

In 2004 a municipal judge in Toledo threw out 219 citations issued by the city against Norfolk Southern for blocked crossings, citing the 2002 federal court ruling.

In February alone there were complaints of trains blocking city streets for extended periods of time in New York, Indiana, Wisconsin and New Mexico.

“We work hard as a railroad company to not block roads for extended periods of time. What happened Thursday morning in Lapeer was unfortunate that there was an equipment issue while a train was picking up cars,” said the CN spokesman.

— Staff writer Phil Foley contributed to this report.

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