GRAND ISLAND - Shaun Shepardson played a sound recording of the train crossing bell near her home at North Road and Highway 2 for Hall County supervisors last week.
Shepardson said she hears the loud, annoying, dinging noise from her front porch nearly 24 hours a day due to trains being stopped on the tracks.
“The bell at my house is so annoying and there is absolutely nothing you can do,” she said. “There has to be something the sheriff or somebody can do. It’s got to be under a nuisance, disturbing the peace or a noise complaint.”
After nine months of trying to work with Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Central Nebraska Railroad to address problem railroad crossings at North Road and Highway 2, Capital Avenue, Fourth Street and Seventh Street, the county board voted unanimously to move forward with a complaint to the Public Service Commission with the hope of resolving the issue.
Supervisor Gary Quandt said some county board members have been working with a group of law enforcement officers put together by Sheriff Rick Conrad to make things better, but that has not happened.
“We were told at a meeting that they would start breaking the trains and it would not be at the North Road and Highway 2 intersection,” Quandt said. “Plus, the bell would not be ringing 20 or 24 hours a day — and that hasn’t happened. In fact, I am told there are more trains there now and it seems like it is blocked pretty much all the time.”
Supervisor Butch Hurst, who also attended the aforementioned meeting, said he did not walk away from it with the same impression as Quandt.
“I must have missed something because what I took away from that meeting was ‘we’re the railroad, we have this problem everywhere’ and they refused to do anything about it,” he said. “I think the only way you are going to get these people to do something is to get the Public Service Commission involved.”
Shepardson said the train issue includes more than just the ringing bell. She said when the train engine is stalled at the crossing, it sounds like a blaring car stereo inside her house.
“It could be 15 minutes or it could be six hours that they don’t move,” she said. “Two weeks ago, in the middle of the night, at 3 a.m., I thought we were having an earthquake or something because there is a train stopped out there with two engines in the middle that are idling and shaking everything in the house. So I called 911 and told them what was happening. They said the railroad would move the train. In 10 minutes, there was another train to replace that train.”
Quandt said that in doing his own research and in speaking with the Public Service Commission, there are two avenues the county can take in solving the issues with the railroad crossings.
“There is a formal hearing and an informal hearing,” he said. “You can have an informal hearing with or without an attorney or you can go to a formal hearing. We have to look at our options as to how we would go about doing it.”
Shepardson said she has documentation of her claims, meaning she can use it to move forward with her complaint to the Public Service Commission. She added she has a camera that points directly at the tracks to see exactly how long the trains sit on the tracks near her home.
At the other railroad crossings, Quandt said Central Nebraska Railroad blocks crossings at Fourth Street, Seventh Street and Capital Avenue for long periods of time.
“There is one day when they are going onto the Union Pacific tracks coming to and from St. Libory where they block the crossings,” he said. “If you want to go to Lincoln School, right across the tracks, you have to drive all the way around to Airport Road, come all the way back around and go probably about 10 miles.”
Supervisor Dick Hartman said getting the railroads to do anything about the crossings will be tough because the railroad “is a little bigger than we are.”
“We have tried it in the past when I was on the board before, wrote them tickets and it didn’t work,” he said. “Those people are ruthless, they don’t care.”