Sick of railroad crossing delays: Butler County residents hoping commissioners can fix problems

Residents of the Cedar Grove subdivision in St. Clair Twp. are hoping the Butler County commissioners can help solve a problem with slow or stopped trains blocking access for emergency and other vehicles.
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Residents of the Cedar Grove subdivision in St. Clair Twp. are hoping the Butler County commissioners can help solve a problem with slow or stopped trains blocking access for emergency and other vehicles.

Credit: NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Solving a problem with slow or stopped trains in tiny St. Clair Twp. led one Ohio lawmaker to draft legislation doubling the penalties for the railroad crossing delays that pose safety issues.

Ohio Rep. Thomas Hall and residents of the Cedar Grove subdivision in St. Clair Twp. are asking the Butler County commissioners for help solving an access and public safety issue caused by slow or stopped trains on a regular basis.

Their spokeswoman, resident Pam Straub, told the commissioners on Monday that from October 2019 until May 2021 all three railroad crossings have been blocked for between eight minutes to 2.5 hours, and those stoppages are now happening around twice a month.

“It’s getting worse and someone in our subdivision is going to die waiting on a life squad to arrive due to the roadway being blocked by a train,” Straub said.

Hall told the Journal-News he has drafted but not yet introduced legislation — prompted by the St. Clair issue — that would double the penalty from $5,000 to $10,000 if it happens more than once month and requires the incidents be reported to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

He said they have tried to work with railroads, namely CSX and Norfolk & Southern, to mitigate the situation to no avail “it just comes to a point where we have to do legislation because we can’t get anybody to do anything else.”

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He said railroads are pretty well protected at the federal level but this legislation, which he plans to introduce soon, will hopefully get their attention.

Straub told the commissioners there have been medical emergencies where life squads couldn’t get in or residents seeking help couldn’t get out. There are 215 residents in the subdivision and she presented a petition to the commissioners with about 70 signatures asking for their help.

They presented four options to solve the problem, Straub told the Journal-News they are asking for one option. The preferred option is to construct a road or bridge to begin on Fear Not Mills Road and eventually connect to Ohio 127 in New Miami, which would provide quick access for emergency services. Two options involve West Elkton Road and another a bridge over or tunnel under the Spring Road crossing.

“We just want one fix, we just want one way out,” Straub said. “One other way out so we can actually get out.”

The commissioners say they want to help and will get moving on a solution. Commissioner Don Dixon said thinking the railroads will help isn’t realistic, they have spent “years and years and years” dealing with them on water and sewer and other projects.

“They have a long record of many years of not providing what work needed to be done on crossings as well as other assets that they own,” Dixon said. “If you try to go through that route you’re going to be 50 years older than you are right now.”

The residents have worked with County Engineer Greg Wilkens on the issue and he told the Journal-News when the commissioners give him the go-ahead he’ll start working on estimates but “it’s going to be expensive.”

The railroads could not be reached for comment.