By Tara Molina

HIGHLAND, Ind. (CBS)– Stopped freight trains in Highland, Indiana are causing major safety concerns and putting lives at risk.

Police told CBS 2 Highland Road is often blocked, sometimes for up to four hours and it turns the community into an island.

Drivers can find another route around the stopped train, but that can take minutes that matter in an emergency.

“There’s only two ways in and out of this neighborhood that has approximately 300 residences in it, so it could be life or death for somebody,” Commander John Banasiak said.

It’s something longtime resident Sybil Karwoski thinks about every day.

“I get anxiety, panic attacks, I don’t like this feeling,” Karwoski said. “If something happens to me, how am I going to get help?”

She said she’s tracked a stopped freight train on these tracks. She said some have stopped for as long as four hours.

“How is somebody going to get help if they’re having a heart attack?” Karwoski said. “If I fall down and I can’t get up, what are you going to do?”

A Facebook post from Highland police explained they’re frustrated too, but because of a 2018 court ruling, Indiana police can no longer issue citations to railroad companies for trains blocking railroad crossings for longer than 10 minutes.

In Highland, those companies are Norfolk Southern Railroad and Canadian National Railroad.

“It has made a difference of getting to that person calling for service of a minute to 3 minutes extra time when you weren’t planning on getting stuck or detoured here,” Banasiak said.

Banasiak told CBS 2 they issued 24 total citations, at all the crossings in the city reporting issues, in 2017 and 14 in 2018, before that ruling.

Hands tied now, Highland police are asking residents to report issues at crossings in this community and others.

Karwoski confirmed when people complain, nothing happens.

And that’s not easing minds like this one.

“I’m praying that nothing bad happens,” Karwoski said.

CBS 2 is waiting to hear back after reaching out to both of the railroad companies with tracks running through Highland, for a response on these concerns and a possible solution.

 

UPDATE:  Canadian National Railroad response:

“CN understands the concerns of the residents and, even if operations require passing through public crossings and sometimes require unscheduled stoppages, CN will continue to work hard to minimize the impacts. CN continues to work with the Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission and Congressman [Pete] Visclosky’s office to discuss potential solutions.

“In case of an emergency situation where a crossing is blocked, citizens may contact our police communications center at 1-800-465-9239. The number is also located at the crossing behind the cross bucks.”

Tara Molina