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Railroad Blockages Come Under Review
Motorists in Escalon are familiar with this scene; the crossing lights flashing and the arms down as a train rolls through. Officials are looking to reduce the number of trains stopped at crossings, with blockages becoming a problem. Marg Jackson/The Times

It’s a problem that often surfaces in Escalon – railroad crossings blocked for an unusually long amount of time – as motorists sit and idle, much the same way the train blocking the crossing also sits. Escalon Police Chief Mike Borges said officials have received multiple complaints over the past several weeks, with the stoppages becoming more frequent and lasting longer, impacting traffic and potentially creating a hazardous situation if fire, police or ambulance could not quickly respond to a scene cut off by an idling train.

The issue was briefly discussed at an Escalon City Council meeting earlier this month and City Manager Tammy Alcantor noted that railroad officials were made aware of the ongoing problem. The bulk of the train traffic coming through town is from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway system, with Amtrak also utilizing the tracks.

“We actually met with some of the local railroad officials and we got contact numbers,” Borges said of having a ‘go to’ person to call if the crossings are blocked for any unreasonable length of time.

Normal blockages, as the trains pass through, are to be expected, he said, but the problems seem to occur when a train would stop and idle while waiting for another one to pass by. The trains are supposed to continue through the crossing before stopping so as not to impede the flow of traffic.

Borges said railroad officials indicated it could have been an issue with staging, if train operators were not utilizing the proper areas. Borges said they are supposed to adhere to the specific staging area, which typically means the trains have passed the main crossings in town before stopping.

“In terms of past blockages, we had to determine if there were issues with their dispatchers, having them stop elsewhere,” the chief noted.

He added that city and emergency response officials were able to provide some details about recent incidents when the crossings were blocked for a significant amount of time. Borges said they also made clear the ramifications for emergency response if the blockages continue.

Fire Chief Rick Mello said it’s crucial for fire response to have no lengthy delays around the tracks, especially since they intersect so many areas of the city.

Borges said he feels that some headway was made in the discussions.

“If we have problems, we now have the numbers to call directly to find out what’s going on,” he said.