INDIANAPOLIS | Fed up with superlong trains causing superlong street crossing delays, the normally business-friendly Republican-controlled General Assembly may authorize supersized fines against rail operators.
Indiana law already prohibits railroads from blocking grade crossings with a train — moving or stopped — for more than 10 minutes. Violators can be assessed a $500 fine.
State Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, believes an additional civil penalty is needed to help railroads get the message they shouldn't be blocking streets with trains for hours at a time, cutting off different sides of towns and endangering public safety.
His proposal, Senate Bill 27, would add a $500 penalty to the infraction fine if crossings are blocked more than 10 minutes but less than 20 minutes, $700 for 20-25 minutes, $900 for 25-30 minutes, and $1,000 for 30-35 minutes, with another $500 for every five minutes after that.
"There is a high level of frustration, so I think we ought to do something," Kruse told the Senate's Homeland Security and Transportation Committee on Tuesday.
State Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, a committee member, suggested the proposed penalties for delays still might not be high enough to get rail companies to consider them more than just another cost of doing business.
"The railroads don't enjoy a reputation for being very considerate for local units of government," Rogers said.
Chip Carver, representing a coalition of Hoosier railways, told the panel the delays mostly are due to the nation's growing economy and Indiana's large number of grade crossings, which make it almost impossible to stop a train to swap crews or make repairs without blocking at least one road-rail intersection.
"We're very committed to making the trains run faster and more efficiently," Carver said.
The committee is likely to vote next week on whether to send the measure to the full Senate.