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Merchants battle stopped trains

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    BOSSIER CITY, LA (KTBS) — The pain of waiting on a train. We’ve all been there.

And KTBS has told you how a Louisiana law that fines railroads that block intersections for more than 20 minutes is useless. That’s because federal law protects the train operator.

But some merchants in Bossier City say Union Pacific is abusing that protection. They say for the last two months, freight trains have repeatedly blocked Barksdale Boulevard where it meets Old Minden Road for hours at a time.

“Two hours? Really?” Ali Ali is heard yelling on cell phone video he recorded on Sept. 25 of a stopped train.

And that’s a mild delay compared to others that Ali has recorded.

On Oct. 3, he posted to Facebook another video of a stopped train. He’s heard saying, “It’s 5 o’clock. This train stopped right here at 12:15.”

Ali runs Sam’s Wireless, a cell phone repair and accessory business. It’s open every day. But they’re seeing customers cut off just about every day — for too long.

“I get mad,” Ali admits, because he says the stopped trains are hurting business.

On the Oct. 3 recording, Ali is also heard saying, “This is is the 10th day in a row now I have counted. This train has been on the tracks longer than two hours every single time. Some days it’s three hours. Some days it’s four hours. One day was seven hours. That was just ridiculous.”

He’s not the only merchant who thinks so. Lonnie Hamilton has a used car lot across the street.

“It’s been hell. It’s been hell,” Hamilton says from Bolar Auto.

He’s also recorded trains stopped for too long.

On a cell phone video he shot on Oct. 16, Hamilton said, “Train has been here for exactly one hour. It’s 5 o’clock rush hour. I’ve seen 71 cars turn around.”

He says soon after that train cleared the roadway, another blocked the tracks for an hour and a half.

“Which is sad. It hurts us,” Hamilton says.

“Sales have dropped tremendously,” Ali claims.

Both men say they’ve called Bossier City police when the trains have blocked the road. But according to city spokeswoman Traci Landry, “We have not been getting that information.”

Landry says when police do get complaints about trains, they send an officer to verify the train has been stopped for 20 minutes, then the police call the railroad.

“We usually get quick results,” Landry says. “Whether the train is moving on as we’re talking to them, or there’s an unforeseeable event — a breakdown, a change of crew — that can’t be managed.”

But both Ali and Hamilton say they’ve also called Union Pacific and heard more excuses.

“Oh, we have something going on on the tracks,” Ali recalls an official telling him. “Or engineer has to stop because apparently the engineer works so many hours, the train automatically shuts down.”

When KTBS asked Union Pacific about the recent problems at this crossing, spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza provided a short written statement saying, “This area is a busy rail hub that is experiencing rail congestion and the trains are waiting to enter our Riverfront Yard. We do our best to move rail cars as efficiently as possible and appreciate the community’s patience.”

The federal law that protects Union Pacific and other railroads is one regulates interstate commerce. When KTBS asked Congressman Mike Johnson about it, he sent a letter to the head of the Federal Railroad Administration.

It said in part, “I respectfully request your assistance in investigating the rise in these delays caused by the freight rails traveling through this thoroughfare.”

Ali and Hamilton say it’s not just their potential customers who are turned away.

“We’ve had a couple of 911 responders get stuck. It’s not good,” Hamilton says.

“Our first responders are well practiced in being able to get where they need to go,” Landry responded.

But there’s no getting around the problem that Bossier City was built around train tracks. Expect delays, and know your alternate routes.

What else can you do? Landry says if you see a train stopped for more than 20 minutes, you should first call the railroad.

In the the case of Barksdale Boulevard, that’s Union Pacific. The number for their local rail yard is (318) 925-1946.

Kansas City Southern also operates in Bossier. Their rail yard number is (318) 742-1628.

Then if you’re not happy after calling the railroad, you should call Bossier City Police on their non-emergency number, 318-741-8611.

That’s when they’ll send an officer who will verify the train’s been there 20 minutes. Then police call the railroad about getting some action.

But again, Ali and Hamilton say they’ve been taking those same steps.

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