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Large crowd discusses railroad problems


JUNCTION CITY, Wis. (WSAU) -- About 65 people gathered in Junction City Thursday night to express their frustration with the Canadian National Railroad.

The Village of Junction City has nearly 50 trains passing through each day. Village President Peter Mallek says the top complaint is trains blocking crossings for several hours at a time. This has been an inconvenience for businesses and residents in and out of the village, and has affected emergency vehicle access.

Mallek says the Village has given the railroad some suggestions, and he’s hoping they take them seriously.  “They could extend those (passing siding) rails another mile (west). That would take it out of town and eliminate some of our problems. They could decouple the trains, especially if they’re going to sit there for 4, 8, 12, or 20 hours. They could just be more conscientious of where the end of the train is and not block a crossing.”

CN’s Director of Governmental Affairs Kevin Soucie heard many complaints, some of them for the first time. People from Amherst to Spencer shared stories about problems caused by the trains, especially when they’re parked.

Soucie says the harsh winter affects the train’s air brakes, and has caused much of the recent backlog of rail traffic.  “When it’s really cold, it’s hard to get the air through the length of the train, and so we have to run shorter trains, and what that does is requires more locomotives, it requires more crews, those sorts of issues, so it really presents a challenge if it’s cold, and this winter, it was very cold for a very sustained period of time.”

Engineers also have 10 hour driving limits similar to truck drivers, so when the time is up, the train stops.

Portage County District Attorney Louis Molepske, Jr. is frustrated, as he believes the railroad is simply paying the citations like it’s part of the cost of doing business.  “If they’re just going to keep paying it like a cost of doing business, it doesn’t solve the problems you heard tonight in Junction City, and that’s what needs to be solved. The railroad is smart enough. They have GPS, satellites, and they know where their trains are to fix this issue, and it’s about time they do.”

Molepske says blocking roads and driveways has led to several dangerous incidents.  “There was a family here tonight that they almost didn’t get to the hospital to have a baby delivered. We have a guy whose tractor is on fire and the fire department can’t get there. We have people going around the (train) cars using local roads, messing with the roads, and we have kids going under rail cars that are stopped for three hours from the Auburndale school system, so that’s a problem and Canadian National has to address it.”

Village President Peter Mallek is optimistic the meeting will lead to better communication with the railroad, but he will still pursue better regulation and enforcement.  “I think, as I commented to several officials here, I like the cooperative approach. We’ll try that, but I don’t want to give up on the legislative approach, the rulemaking, the ordinances, the citations and all of that. I think we need to keep the pressure on.”

The Junction City meeting was at the National Guard Armory, and included the Village Board, Senator Julie Lassa, Representative Amy Sue Vruwink, several law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical representatives, and Jeff Plale from the Office of the Commissioner of Railroads.

(Our interviews from the Junction City meeting can be heard on our website.  Just click on the names to hear Village President Peter Mallek, District Attorney Louis Molepske,Jr., CN Director of Government Affairs Kevin Soucie, and Jeff Plale from the Office of the Commissioner of Railroads.)