AUBURNDALE, Wis. — Neighbors living near railroad tracks in Wisconsin are becoming increasingly concerned about long train blockages since an increase in sand and oil shipments have caused them to grow into a frequent and dangerous disruption.
The amount of industrial sand used in fracking that’s transported by train grew from about 10 million tons in 2005 to about 50 million tons in 2014, according to the Association of American Railroads. After Texas, Wisconsin was the second largest exporter of crushed and broken stone, gravel and industrial sand in 2012.
The increase in rail traffic has caused a gridlock in Wisconsin, with some trains stalled on the tracks for hours or days at a time.
Residents argue that the trains prevent fire trucks and ambulances from getting to their homes during an emergency. Jim and Barb Vitort of Junction City, a small town just off U.S. Hwy. 10 west of Stevens Point, built a private frontage road after trains blocked access to their home during several emergencies, including a fire and a heart attack.
Some residents have resorted to climbing over stalled trains so they’re able to get to their homes.
So far, residents who have filed lawsuits have been unsuccessful with forcing a change in court. The dominant rail line in Wisconsin, Canadian National Railway, has been able to convince judges and public officials that only the federal government has the ability to regulate railroads.
Although deputies in Wood and Portage counties have issued more than 100 citations to Canadian National for abandoned or stalled trains over the past two years, the company has challenged many of them in court and won.
A Federal Railroad Administration spokesman and at least one U.S congressman believe the judges had erred, because federal law doesn’t prevent local and state governments from regulating railroads. Legislators could take action to address the problem, but it currently remains unsolved.