Slipping under stopped trains to get to school on time? FOX19 NOW investigates

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - It's a dangerous game some kids are playing when trains are in a dead halt for hours on their tracks in the Cincinnati area.

Some children, says Lockland Mayor Mark Mason, Sr., are crawling underneath those stopped train cars in his village, trying to get to school on time. Mason said trains have stopped here one, two, sometimes three hours, blocking first responders and anyone else from getting in or out.

But what's more disturbing are the kids who're making it a game, crawling underneath the train cars while they're not moving, so they're not late for school.

"It's every day," said John Schmurr, who could not believe what he had witnessed twice. "I've seen a few girls, they crossed underneath one of the rail cars."

Young girls, he says, slipping underneath stopped trains at Lockland Village entrances and exits, trying to get to school on time.

He said one girl was even dragging her bicycle with her, under the train.

Just this past Tuesday, a train sat for two hours, employees told FOX19 NOW, blocking a delivery truck for the Cindus Corporation. That was one of three trains that had stopped and blocked the busy intersection at Station Avenue three times that day.

And there was a big backup Feb. 26 at Davis and Mill streets near Arlington Heights.

"It was over an hour," said Schmurr.

The stopped train forced an ambulance to find the long way around the train.

"We all know that seconds count," said State Senator Cecil Thomas, who's looking into the problem with his staff right now.

There are daily chronic stoppages, residents say, and a constant outcry on Lockland's Community Facebook pages.

"These trains are ridiculous," said a woman. "All those kids standing on the other side waiting to get to school in this cold."

In a statement to FOX19 NOW, CSX wrote:

CSX takes reports of pedestrians passing through rail cars very seriously. No one should risk his or her life to avoid waiting for a train. It is extremely dangerous to cross anywhere but at a designated crossing once the train has completely cleared the road or sidewalk, and CSX partners with Ohio Operation Lifesaver to inform pedestrians and drivers about this very important safety message.

"A standing train is not safe at all," said Lockland Schools Superintendent Ted Jebens. "It could start at any time and it's a very deadly and dangerous situation to be in."

There are approximately 550 kids, from kindergarten through twelfth grade, in his district.

"We have not had any issues with kids hopping the trains that we're aware of, however we've had a multitude of concerns from parents with trains stopping and they're unable to get from where they are, over to the school and vice versa," said Jebens.

The school is pretty understanding when it comes to tardiness caused by the trains stopping.

"The tardies are excused until the students are able to get through safely," said Jebens.

The villages of Lockland, Reading, and Arlington Heights have reciprocal agreements, so if one ambulance is trapped by the train, the next closest one can take the call, but that's not an ideal for emergency responders.

"Well what they do, they turn around, they have to go back, I know they're frustrated," said Richard DePrato, who's been following this issue for years.

Mason said Reading, Wyoming, Arlington Heights, Lincoln Heights, Evendale, Hartwell and Carthage are impacted.

"It shouldn't take a child getting seriously hurt or killed because of these trains for us to get some action," Mason said.

There is a five-minute ordinance in the Village of Lockland for stopped trains.

"Once they're stopped for five minutes, then the clock starts running," said Mason.

They issue citations, which start at $250, with an additional $100 for each hour stalled. They've issued four of these already this year.

Mason said fining the railroads is not working to solve the problem, so they're taking their gripes to Washington, hoping for a solution.

"I want to make it clear, the Village of Lockland is not looking for a revenue stream from issuing fines," said Mason. "This is strictly now a safety issue and a quality of life issue for our residents."

Mason approached CSX this past fall.

"They've told us, it's the cost of doing business, go ahead and fine us," said Mason. "So they look at it as the cost of doing business, they know they're blocking our crossings, tough! Deal with it!"

With kids trying to crawl underneath the stopped cars and first responders getting blocked, Mason is applying the, "squeaky wheel gets the grease," philosophy.

There's been so much talk on Lockland's Community Facebook pages,  they're expecting a lot of people will show-up at their Council meeting this coming Monday night at 7 p.m.

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