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Union Pacific: Stay Patient On Uptown Train Blockages

A spokesperson for Union Pacific confirmed Thursday that recent Uptown Normal train blockages stem from adjustments in operations at the Bloomington yard and increased train traffic.

But UP’s Jeff DeGraff said it could be a few weeks before noticeable changes are made.

He said the yard is one of the railroad company’s main corridors between Chicago and St. Louis.

“In order to make sure the trains are positioned correctly getting into the yard, some of our trains are having to stop before they come in so that we can make sure that we have the correct space open for them and the switches are aligned like they should be,” DeGraff said.

Unfortunately, he said, that stopping point is in Uptown Normal.

“We realize the inconvenience that poses. It’s also something that we would rather not see. Having to stop our trains before they can enter into the yard is not necessarily efficient for our operations either,” he said.

GLT is tracking reports of stopped trains in Uptown Normal on our interactive map below. Submit your own report.

Pedestrian Safety

The primary concern of both UP and the Town of Normal has been the safety of pedestrians.

Town of Normal Public Works Director Wayne Aldrich said he is working to spread the word about safety around rail crossings, but residents have already been seen attempting to cross in between or under train cars.

"Our biggest concerns right now with the stopped trains are pedestrians crossing where they shouldn't be."

Normal Fire Department Chief Mick Humer told GLT his department has received numerous calls regarding safety concerns by the stopped freight trains.

“We even witnessed somebody trying to pass a bicycle over to somebody and do that, which is very dangerous because you just don’t know when that train might start to move or just move just a foot or two, which could severely injure or kill somebody,” Humer said.

In regards to Normal Fire Department operations, there have not been any instances where response times were impacted, he said.

“There are underpasses at Main Street and Beaufort Street that we use, so it only takes us about a block out of our way, so it really hasn’t affected our response times too much. ... We’re always concerned about response times, don’t get me wrong, and so we are working with those and dealing with that. But I think our biggest concerns right now with the stopped trains are pedestrians crossing where they shouldn’t be,” Humer said.

Unit 5 spokesperson Dayna Brown said there have been stopped school buses, but First Student doesn’t keep track of what the obstruction was.

“When you transport 10,000 students twice a day, getting stopped at rail crossings is something that happens,” Brown said. “Last week we did notice an unusual number of buses that were stopped for a longer period of time. For about 10 to 15 minutes, we had about 10 to 12 busses that saw a stop either in Normal or on the south side of Bloomington.”

However, she did say traveling staff members have experienced delays.

“We’ve heard from people that have been caught as they move between schools,” she said. “And they’ve seen trains going in both directions. One might be stopped and one might be moving, and that has blocked traffic for a significant amount of time.”

Legal Options

Illinois had a law preventing freight trains from stalling on the tracks for over 10 minutes, but it was ruled unconstitutional by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2008. Since then, the state has been unable to pass a new law.

The Federal Railroad Administration, however, can issue blocked crossing regulations.

Steve Laffey is the railroad safety specialist with the Illinois Commerce Commission and also the Illinois contact listed with the FRA. He said there’s no reason the trains should be stopped in the first place because housing stopped trains is what the Bloomington yard is for.

“I guess that could be true if they’re trying to get into the south entrance of the yard and the switch is not set for them to get off of the main lane track into the yard,” Laffey said. “But, that’s just bad operating practice.”

But DeGraff, the UP spokesperson, said the Bloomington yard has limited space for the amount of trains coming through. He said the railroad company will work towards making changes so that trains are no longer stopping, but moving at a “slow roll” into the yard.

“A moving train is certainly going to be going through the crossings quicker than a stopped train,” he said. “Just like if you’re pulling into a parking place or approaching an entrance in your vehicle, you do slow down to do it safely, so that’s essentially what we’re doing with our trains.”

DeGraff said it could be a couple weeks before changes are implemented.

“It’s our internal operations as far as scheduling and working on when trains come in, how they’re handled, making sure that we have crews in place, making sure the tracks are aligned appropriately so that we don’t have to stop the train to align the tracks,” DeGraff said.

He said UP is constantly looking for ways to improve efficiencies, and the railroad company appreciates the patience of Bloomington-Normal residents while they work to fix the issue.

“We’ve come across some things there in our Bloomington yard that we’ll be able to adjust, and hopefully that will resolve a lot of these issues,” DeGraff said.

Laffey said residents frustrated with blocked rail crossings can file a complaint on the ICC website.

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