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Terre Haute Struggles to Enforce Violations By Railroad Companies

With railroad companies owing the City of Terre Haute more than $60,000 in fines, Mayor Duke Bennett says there’s little city officials can do to try to collect the money.

Under a city ordinance, trains are allowed to block a city intersection for 15 minutes. After that time, police issue a ticket, which comes with a fine. Bennett says the city has limited options when it comes to trying to collect.

“The railroads are big companies. They have a lot of things going on. Some of these things are difficult for our local constituents to understand.  That we can’t just go out and make them do something. All we can do is cite them like we do anybody else. Then it’s in the courts’ hands, it’s no longer in our hands,” he said.

Bennett says city officials are aware of the problem, as his office is tipped off to many of the offenses.

“We start getting calls, it’s like clockwork. People know, they’re sitting there. They get to that 10 to 15 minute time frame. They call us, an officer is dispatched down there. And then they cite them for blocking that crossing. We have to do that. Anytime we get a complaint or our officers are caught themselves, they will be writing those tickets,” Bennett said.

Bennett says he’s heard similar complaints from other mayors around the country.

Large railroad companies, he says, simply budget for such fines and collect them as part of their way of doing business. CSX, which has the most tracks in the city, owes the city the most amount.

Bennett says his office also receives a glut of complaints about weeds and other growth around intersections. He says railroad crews only mow the areas intermittently.

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