CHARLESTON — Complaints about blocked railroad crossings in West Virginia have been difficult to investigate in real time, but a new online portal could make a difference for state inspectors.
Susan Small, communications director for the West Virginia Public Service Commission (PSC), says PSC railroad safety inspectors are saying that the complaints have been increasing, but up until now the agency has not had a way to collect and investigate complaints in real time.
“Our RR Inspectors learn about a blocked crossing sometimes a week or two after the fact,” she said. “At that point it is impossible to collect the necessary information such as location of crossing, length of time the crossing was blocked, RR company, etc. This online portal will allow our inspectors to initiate an investigation while the crossing is blocked.”
The new online portal is a new feature on the PSC’s website. Small says most of the complaints come from residents. She said the online portal is where individuals can report trains that are illegally blocking one of the 8,000 public highway rail crossings in the state.
West Virginia Code (§31-2A-2) states that except in the case of a continuously moving train or an emergency, it is illegal for a railroad company to block a public street, road or highway for longer than 10 minutes.
“Blocked highway-rail grade crossings are becoming a major problem in West Virginia,” Public Service Commission Chairman Charlotte Lane said. “By reporting these issues, PSC Railroad Safety Inspectors will know where the problems are and will investigate the cause of the blockages. These findings will then be reported to the Federal Railroad Administration for review.”
“Our inspectors conduct an investigation then must get a police officer who can issue a ticket to the railroad, it is up to a magistrate to assess fines,” Small added.
To report a blocked crossing, people should write down the date, time and how long the crossing was blocked. Note what city, street or route you were traveling on and the DOT number on the blocked crossing. If possible, write down the numbers on the side of some of the cars or on the locomotive.
Small said each public railroad crossing should have a bright blue emergency notification sign somewhere near the crossing. That sign will include the name and phone number of the railroad company and a unique identification AAR-DOT number, a six digit number followed by a letter, such as “123456 A.”
Once you have that information you can enter it in the online portal at http://www.psc.state.wv.us/scripts/RRBlockedCrossings/blockedCrossingComplaint.cfm