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Frankfort, Indiana authorities 'aggressively' citing stopped trains

FRANKFORT, Ind. (WISH) -- A community of approximately 17,000 in the heart of Indiana is cracking down on multibillion-dollar rail companies accused of violating the state's blocked crossing statute, officials said. 

Drivers, first responders, visiting professionals and local authorities in Frankfort adopted a "zero-tolerance policy" for stalled trains after years of inconvenience and peril at local crossings, said Mayor Chris McBarnes. 

"The people of Frankfort have had enough," he declared in an interview with News 8. "This is going to be a good ol' grassroots movement; the little man standing up to a mega-corporation." 

McBarnes authorized - and encouraged - Frankfort police to monitor heavily trafficked crossings and take punitive action to the full extent of Indiana law when appropriate. 

"Our officers have been directed to issue citations if, indeed, a crossing is blocked for more than 10 minutes," he explained. "We are taking an incredibly aggressive approach and citing our railroad companies, who are dangerously blocking crossings within our community." 

The city's push to hold railroads accountable can be seen as a bold move amid a pending legal dispute over the validity of the Indiana statute that grants local officials the authority to issue citations for extended train stops. 

Frankfort is, essentially, flexing the very legal muscle train operators seek to excise; their display of aggression comes as knives are sharpened in Indiana's highest court. 

The mayor said he doesn't expect rail companies to pay every fine associated with the citations. 

Frankfort officials aim to establish productive dialogue with train operators and create a paper trail documenting their daily frustrations, according to McBarnes.

Troy Bacon, the city's chief of police, said efforts to resolve the issue through communication had been unsuccessful for years. He applauded the initiative to keep public safety from derailing.

"We tried to work with rail companies and talk to conductors and engineers," Bacon told News 8. "What is probably the most scary situation is when there's one officer on one side of the tracks, everyone else is on the other and that [one] officer is calling for help. And you can't get there fast enough. That's happened multiple times... You have to go a mile out of the way just to get to that officer and you don't know what's happening. That's a pretty sick feeling." 

Officers and paramedics have also been held up by stopped trains on their way to domestic violence calls and accidents with injuries, he added. 

"Now, we're taking a more aggressive stance and hopefully we can get the attention of railroad companies," said Bacon. 

CSX and Norfolk Southern, the two companies that operate trains in Frankfort, did not acknowledge the city's new citation policies. 

A CSX representative issued the following company statement in response to News 8's request for comment:

“CSX has very limited operations in the Frankfort area. We are not aware of any recent complaints from residents or officials in Frankfort, nor are we aware of any recent citations.”

A Norfolk Southern representative issued the following company statement in response to News 8's request for comment:

"Norfolk Southern maintains that Indiana’s Blocked Crossing Statute is pre-empted [sic] by federal laws. The Indiana Supreme Court earlier this month heard oral arguments in that legal case. Because this matter is the subject of ongoing litigation, Norfolk Southern has no other comment at this time." 

Blocked crossings within Frankfort city limits can be reported to Central Dispatch at (765) 654-5563. Witnesses are instructed to note the time, location and rail company when reporting stalled trains. 

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