West Memphis Wants Union Pacific Fined

March 28, 2007 - Posted at 6:21 p.m. CDT

WEST MEMPHIS-"This kind of cut off a lifeline between one side and the other side of the city," said Assistant Police Chief Mike Allen.

In October of 2006, a Union Pacific train came to a screeching halt for two hours.

"It proceeded through the center of West Memphis, stopped when it was blocked by this other train and blocked the intersections of Jefferson, Jackson, Broadway, and Thompson," said City Attorney David Peebles.

Just to give you an idea how bad the situation was. While that train was sitting still at the intersection on Broadway for those two hours, on a normal day, more than 17,000 cars could have traveled through the intersection.

Not only did the train block several busy intersections, but the entrance to the Coastal plant South of town was also shut off.

Seeing that reminded emergency personnel all too much of the fiery scene a few years ago.

"If that situation had been in 1998, where the crossings were blocked and we couldn't get fire apparatus to that plant, it could have been a major catastrophe for the city of West Memphis," said Allen.

So to prevent a disaster like that from happening, the city has taken the issue to the state.

"The citizens of West Memphis have been imposed upon by the railroads and this is the avenue that we have, that we can get their attention and let them know that something needs to be done," said Peebles.

City officials say this isn't the first time something like this has happened.

Just a few months earlier a house on the West side of town lit the sky with fire and smoke.

"The station on the West side responded, but needed additional units. Those additional units were responding from the East and had to wait for the trains to clear the tracks before they could get there," said Peebles.

"Our job is to protect lives and property. We can't do that with a blocked train in some circumstances," said Allen.

So when the lights are on and the train is sitting still, there's simply not much room to move.

"We can't jump the trains basically is what it amounts to," said Allen.If the State rules so, Union Pacific could be looking at several thousand dollars in fines based on the number of intersections blocked and the amount of time they were blocked.

Current law says if a train is blocking traffic for more than 10 or 15 minutes, the train must be split.

We did speak with a representative from Union Pacific on the phone, who said they know blocking an intersection can be frustrating, and that they go to great lengths for it not to happen. Story ideas or comments?  Email Will at wcarter@kait.com.