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A long Burlington Northern coal train has stopped along Highway 2 and blocked the North Road crossing. According to neighbors in the area, stopped trains have blocked this crossing and the Engleman Road crossing to the west for hours, and sometimes days, at a time. Along with blocking access to their homes, when stopped, the train engines keep running and the noise from the lowered crossing arms keeps ringing until the train moves away. (Independent/Barrett Stinson)

A formal complaint is being filed against Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, Nebraska Central Railroad and Union Pacific Railroad for blocking railroad crossings in Hall County.

The Nebraska Public Service Commission on Tuesday issued an order releasing its findings and closing the investigation into the blockings.

“We voted unanimously to take that action,” PSC Chairwoman Mary Ridder told the Independent.

Burlington Northern Sante Fe allegedly blocked several crossings along Nebraska Highway 2 from Engleman Road North to Broadwell Avenue North, and Nebraska Central Railroad southbound trains allegedly block crossings at Fourth Street East, Seventh Street East, and Capital Avenue East while entering the Union Pacific Railroad line south of Fourth Street East.

The formal complaint follows an investigation by the PSC Transportation Department and a PSC meeting held Feb. 5 in Grand Island.

“That was almost an entire daylong hearing we held. There was a lot of testimony given and based on that we’ve decided to move forward with a formal complaint against three railroads,” Ridder said.

During the meeting, the PSC and Hall County Board of Commissioners heard several hours of testimony from both concerned citizens and community representatives.

Among complaints voiced in February, trains will rest and block intersections, forcing residents to take lengthy detours, and the position of the resting trains will cause the gate bells to ring for several hours.

Grand Island Police Chief Robert Falldorf and Fire Chief Cory Schmidt both testified that blocked crossings have affected department response times.

“There was testimony stating that schoolchildren were seen crawling between and under trains in order to get to school or get home. That is unacceptable,” the PSC reported.

The PSC concluded, “Based on the extensive testimony received at the hearing, the commission has reasonable belief that there have been and continue to be violations.”

Hall County Commission Chairwoman Pam Lancaster said she was relieved that the community’s concerns have been heard.

“Citizens brought forward very compelling evidence that this was a very big safety issue for the community,” Lancaster said. “I’m relieved that someone is listening to us. I think the process is there. We followed the process. And someone heard our plea for help.”

A solution to the blocked crossings could not be reached between the PSC and the railroad companies involved.

The railroads will have 20 days to respond to the PSC complaint before additional proceedings are determined.

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