Stopped trains are blocking Center Street in North Salt Lake for long periods of time, and City Council members are concerned that emergency service vehicles could be prevented from reaching the west side of town.
Representatives from Union Pacific - attorney Clare Williams and Salt Lake station manager Al Hassler - recently met with Mayor D.W. Simmons and the City Council to discuss the problem.City officials said they had previously contacted the railroad about the blockage of Center Street by long trains but have observed no improvement.
"The situation there has worsened . . . . We've seen no changes," Councilman Lee Twitchell said.
Twitchell expressed concern about liability if a stopped train ever ends up blocking Fire Department or emergency medical personnel from reaching the west side of the city, particularly the industrial park area. He said he knows of some trains that have blocked the intersection for more than 30 minutes at a time.
He also said the stopped trains cause frustration among motorists who regularly travel in the area, and may eventually motivate drivers who see a train coming to try to beat it through the crossing. He questioned whether such delays have been a factor in past tragedies there.
The city has an ordinance that allows a $500 fine against the railroad if trains block Center Street for more than five minutes. Slow-moving trains are exempted from the ordinance, but it stipulates that the railroad must contact the public if a train is going to block the intersection for more than five minutes.
"I'm not aware of any trains that are stopped for more than five minutes," Williams said.
He explained that the railroad yard, south of the city, is long enough to park long trains in. If there ever was a blockage, Williams said, it would take more than five minutes for a man to walk from the engine of a one-mile-long train to the intersection.
"This is almost an impossibility. Where does the person come from that holds the sign?" Hassler replied to the council's suggestion of having a railroad employee stand at the crossing with a sign to notify the public of a stalled train.
"This is one of the busiest mainline, double tracks in the county," Williams said, adding that North Salt Lake is simply in a bad place as far as trains are concerned. He said the railroad company believes a state statute on railroad blockage preempts the city's ordinance.
"We're not unjustly trying to pressure the railroad," said Councilman Stuart Hatch. "But we'd like to see some cooperation."
"We're here to help you," Williams said, promising to look into the council's concerns and send a written reply to the city.
Clearing the crossing
North Salt Lake City Council members suggested several possibilities for alleviating long traffic delays at a Center Street train crossing, including:
- Putting a telephone (at the railroad's expense) near the intersection so motorists can call the railroad when a stopped train blocks the road.
- Placing a sign (at city expense) at the crossing telling motorists of the potential blockages and listing phone number for railroad complaints.
- Installing a clock on the crossing guard to track how long stopped trains block the road.
- Parking long trains on the unbroken stretch of track between Centerville and Farmington - where there are no crossings to block - instead of in North Salt Lake.
- Possible construction of an overpass.