Madison's mayor says the Wisconsin and Southern Railroad will work to avoid long delays at crossings in the future because it does "not want to be seen as a villain." Paul Soglin made the comments after a 50-minute meeting with top railroad executives at his office Tuesday afternoon.
The mayor requested the meeting after an April situation where the railroad gates were down one afternoon along East Washington Avenue and Johnson Street for more than 45 minutes. Subsequently, the gates at John Nolen Drive and Broom Street were down for more than an hour and a half during a Friday rush hour in May.
"The lost time in terms of hundreds if not thousands of people being tied up in the congestion is detrimental to the well-being of the community," Soglin said. "Based on what happened in this meeting, it's very clear they don't want to see this happen again. There's no question about that. Whether we see the improvements we need, that's yet to be seen."
Madison has an ordinance limiting the length of time that a railroad crossing can be closed, with fines set out as punishment, but city officials feel it's currently unenforceable. That's because numerous recent court decisions stemming from cases in California, Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota have indicated the Federal Railroad Safety Authorization Act of 1994 prohibits local regulation of crossings. The courts have indicated regulation lies with Congress because the crossings are an example of interstate commerce.
Soglin plans to bring the issue to the attention of the U.S. Conference of Mayors at its annual meeting this weekend. He serves on the Transportation Committee of the organization and before the lengthy delays that occurred this spring, Soglin had introduced a resolution to encourage railroads to work more closely with municipalities to prevent long crossing blockages.
Railroad spokesman Ken Lucht declined to give an interview after the meeting with Soglin, and representatives of the city's police department and attorney's office. However, he said as he was walking away, "We had a great meeting with the mayor. We were really happy to be here."
Soglin said the longer trains in Madison were an example of a growing economy, with a greater demand for goods being transported by rail. However, he insisted it was up to the railroad to do its part to be a better neighbor.
"We can expect to see some long trains coming through the city during the rush hour," Soglin said. "The key is making sure they clear the crossings within a short period of time. (When they don't) it seems in those instances that we have to be better prepared -- both the railroad and the city as to the notification of the fact we've got a problem.”