SPECIAL REPORT: Rail Wait in Waterloo - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

SPECIAL REPORT: Rail Wait in Waterloo

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Trains are a common sight and sound in the City of Waterloo.

More often than not, a halted train is halting the community, blocking intersections and blocking people from their daily routines.  

One driver said, "It's frustrating. How the hell are you supposed to get back and forth to work? You can't."

Another said, "All it does is go back and forth and then most of the time it doesn't really accomplish anything."

Freddie Lee was born and raised in Waterloo, living here for more than six decades. He says the stopped trains have always been a problem, but now it appears trains are getting longer.

Lee said, "They sit up here all day long and nobody does a thing about it."

It also affects local businesses.

There's only one way to get in and out of Huff Construction off Broadway Street. Joe Huff says at least once a week, an employee gets stuck because of a train, with no other way around it.

Huff said, "We've been stuck on the other side of the tracks waiting to come back for our truck until 5:30-6 p.m. when we normally get off at 3:30 in the afternoon."

Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart says he's experienced the issue first-hand.

Hart said, "We've been getting a ton of calls right now, trying to figure out what's going on with the trains and why they are taking so long."

To put the timing to the test, we watched and waited on a Wednesday afternoon. One train was stopped for more than 10 minutes, but we're told, some days it can be triple even quadruple that amount of time.

According to city ordinance, the trains are not supposed to block an intersection for more than 10 minutes with 4 exceptions:

1. When complying with signals affecting the safety of the movement of trains.

2. To avoid striking an object, or person on the track.

3. When the train is disabled

4. To comply with government safety regulations.

Waterloo City Councilman Steve Schmitt admits the 10 minute ordinance is not enforced by the city.

Schmitt said, "The federal ordinance oversees city ordinance and the federal ordinance is that the train has to do this air test for the brakes before they can pull out of the yard, and depending on the length of the train, someone has to walk the track and make sure they are working." He continued, "The city has a 10 minute ordinance, but I don't think in reality it's enforceable because it's not realistic given today's railroads."

For first responders, waiting is not an option.

Battalion Chief Mike Moore said, "The trains have been here since the 1800's, and on the fire department as a first responder, if there's a train on the track, there's a way around it...you just gotta know how to get around it."

Mayor Hart said, "We are a railroad city, but we are also a people city and we want to make sure this is a good marriage between us."

The city says it's trying to work on the problem, especially since construction projects are only adding to it. In fact, with safety as the number one priority,  the DOT recently added live cameras on the tracks at 4th for first responders to access.

Moore said, "Dispatch has those cameras on their computers, we have it here at the fire house and a few guys have it on their phones. This way, they know as they are headed toward Allen Hospital, or even if it's a fire engine going that way, either there's a train there or it's not and we can take an alternative route."

Waterloo Fire Rescue's Chief Medical Officer Jason Hernandez says the cameras have already made a big difference, they no longer have to waste time checking for a train.

Hernandez said, "We'd look over to see if there's a train and then we would have to turn and go to Dane St. and then go under, but that will be closed for two years with construction now, so we really had problems."

Mayor Hart added, "We are just asking that we can work together, be better partners with the railroad because we absolutely need them."

We're told the city hasn't issued a ticket to Canadian National because the city code is virtually unenforceable. 

Mayor Hart and other city officials want to remind people, as frustrating as those wait times are, Waterloo wouldn't be the city it is without the railroads.

In fact,  two Iowa women who lost limbs when they were struck while trying to climb through trains that were blocking the road sued the railroad for allegedly ignoring a safety hazard that's left a trail of horrific injuries. Read more here: http://www.kwwl.com/story/38220212/2018/05/Thursday/amputees-sue-railroad-in-iowa-saying-it-creates-danger

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