Ohio Should Require Motorists to Watch for On-Track Maintenance Equipment, Union Official Says

A work train passes through Duluth, Ga., on Feb. 5, 2019. (Photo by Todd DeFeo/The DeFeo Groupe)

Ohio lawmakers should pass legislation requiring motorists in the state to pay closer attention to on-track maintenance equipment that may be approaching a railroad crossing.

House Bill 226 requires a vehicle operator to stop between 15 and 50 feet away from the tracks for several reasons, including if a crossing gate is low

The Ohio House Transportation and Public Safety Committee is currently considering the bill, which makes it a fourth-degree misdemeanor to fail to stop for a train for on-track equipment.

“On-track maintenance equipment has evolved into ‘train like’ machines that present the same dangers to the motoring public as a train engine/train with cars,” Charlie Hogue, the national legislative director for the Brotherhood of Maintenance Way Employes Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said in prepared testimony. “On-Track maintenance equipment, like trains, are unable to stop on a dime; however, on-track equipment is not identified in the current statute.”

Separately, Ohio lawmakers are considering a bill requiring railroads in Ohio operate trains with at least two crew members. House Bill 186 also requires railroads to install safety measures in their railyards and prohibits railroads from blocking grade crossings for any time if the block obstructs emergency vehicles.

“Approaching trains are currently included in the statute in addition to gates being down, or there is a stop sign or flagman,” Hogue said. “In other words, when a train is visibly approaching a motorist is required to stop, with or without any of the other conditions. In addition, crossing gates are mechanical and do occasionally fail to activate when a train or other on track equipment is approaching. And, not every piece of on-track equipment activates the crossing gates where crossing gates are installed.

“The fix is easy and is supported by rail labor, the railroads themselves, railroad contractors, and in fact I have found no real opposition thus far because it’s truly a public safety issue and the fix is simple language ‘or other on-track equipment’ being inserted into current law anywhere it states: ‘when a train is approaching,’” Hogue added.

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