Rail Transportation

BLOCKED CROSSINGS

Emergency Number at rail crossing

Blocked railroad crossings can be frustrating and inconvenient for drivers. In recent years changes in rail operations and public perception have made this a more significant issue across the country. The Iowa Department of Transportation and transportation agencies from other states have raised these concerns with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

To understand the magnitude of the situation, the FRA has established online system that allows the public to report of blocked crossings. This will also allow the federal government and states to determine the extent of the problem. Follow the link below to report a blocked crossing. Continue reading for more information regarding the complexity of the issue.

Iowa Code

Blocked crossing complaints have increased in recent years as railroads are striving to reduce operating costs by increasing train lengths causing crossings to be blocked for a longer time period. In some cases, trains need to stop due to disabled equipment, switching operations, safety protocols, etc.

Iowa Code 327G.32 prohibits a railroad from blocking a crossing for longer than 10 minutes, but also includes these exceptions.

  • When necessary to comply with signals affecting the safety of the movement of the trains.
  • When necessary to avoid striking an object or person on the track.
  • When the train is disabled.
  • When necessary to comply with governmental safety regulations, including but not limited to speed ordinances and speed regulations.

Citations for non compliance may be issued by local law enforcement authorities, but issuing these citations is problematic and seldom effective. For locations experiencing recurring blockages, the best resolution is to work with the railroad for some kind of accommodation. The Rail Transportation Bureau can provide individuals or community representatives with information and the appropriate railroad contacts. The department is available to help coordinate and foster community/railroad relationships.

A 2006 report by the Federal Railroad Administration, "Impact of Blocked Highway/Rail Grade Crossings On Emergency Response Services" provides some insight into this difficult issue.

The following Iowa DOT videos were produced to provide some perspective on the important role railroads serve in moving freight.