Maybe there's a light at the end of the railroad tunnel after all. Maybe train traffic congestion is finally getting somebody's attention.
Toledoans know well what it's like to sit stewing at a railroad crossing while a slow moving, mile-long train chugs past multiple vehicles queued up at a standstill.
A move is afoot by federal lawmakers to ease the gridlock experienced by many areas beset by an extraordinary number of trains crisscrossing communities and delaying or otherwise interrupting commerce.
Legislation proposed by Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi would allocate more money to cities to alleviate especially clogged rail lines through relocation projects. These could include building less intrusive rail overpasses and tunnels, or perhaps moving entire lines to less traveled sections of a community.
All of these options have frequently been stalled in the planning stage because the expense was prohibitive. But some could finally move to completion if added federal money becomes available. Ohio Sen. George Voinovich is co-sponsor of the bill that would provide $250 million this year to defray rail relocation costs and $500 million every year after through 2006.
Any relief from the congestion caused by heavy train traffic would be cheered in Ohio, where rail rage rose with train traffic after CSX Corp. and Norfolk Southern Corp. acquired Conrail's lines. In nearby suburban Northwood, 160 trains pass through the middle of town every day, creating not only annoying traffic jams but a duplicity of city services.
“Those rail lines have divided our city,” said Northwood City administrator Pat Bacon. “We have two elementary schools because of the rail crossing, and we have two fire stations because of the rail crossing.” Federal money could help reroute some of Northwood's more clogged rail lines, which Jim Seney of the Ohio Rail Commission says are “essentially like putting a stop sign at I-75 and the Ohio Turnpike.”
There are no hearings scheduled yet for the federal rail bill - much legislation has been put on hold in the aftermath of Sept. 11 - but the problems of small cities and towns nationwide overrun with train traffic need to be heard and rectified.