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‘Cutting towns in half:’ Gallatin Co. drivers call in complaints about train jams

Posted at 3:35 PM, Apr 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-18 18:27:37-04

BOZEMAN – The train industry is a large one in the state of Montana and many who drive through towns that have railroads often find themselves at the mercy of waiting as trains travel through.

Others say the wait is even longer when trains are forced to stop at busy intersections.

MTN’s Cody Boyer explores the issue between those living in these towns and what Montana Rail Link is doing to help make it easier for those stuck at the rails.

“They cannot cut towns in half like that,” says Linsey Kallestad.

Linsey Kallestad commutes from her home in Manhattan to work in Bozeman every day.

So when she says she comes up to the tracks and finds a train blocking the way, she’s not the only one inconvenienced.

“Manhattan has two railway crossings that get you from one side of town to the other,” Kallestad says. “Lots of people, kids jumping through the trains while they are stopped.”

For Linsey, her main concern is time.

“The fire department, the police station are both on the south side of the tracks,” Kallestad says. “Ninety percent of the town is on the north side of the tracks. In emergency situations, every second counts.”

Her other question: who do you complain to?

“You don’t know who to complain to,” Kallestad says. “You don’t know even if it’s going to go anywhere. If they get 10 complain calls a week about a stopped train, at what point do they do something about it?”

“Actual blocked crossings where the train is not moving are not very common,” says Ross Lane, Chief Communications Officer for Montana Rail Link. “Out of the 23 or so trains that we average per day, there are few of those that ever will encounter a situation in which they stop. However, a train can take between five and 10 minutes to go through a crossing and as we continue to grow as freight demand increases, folks are just going to be encountering more train traffic in the Gallatin Valley.”

Lane says these issues do happen, though, and can stem from miles away.

“There can be situations in which they, it does go longer than that,” Lane says. “Anything from weather to mechanical difficulties can cause a train to stop.”

He adds that that MRL does try to work with law enforcement and first responders.

“We know we do affect people’s lives but we do work with 911 and different first responders,” Lane says. “We actually have the ability to break that train.

Lane also adds that complaints are heard.

We do keep track of complaints when people call in,” Lane says. “We want to make sure that, one, there’s not a safety issue and, two, if there is something that we can do operationally to relieve any sort of situation that may be happening.”

Lane agrees there can be an issue but MRL cannot pay for public infrastructure.

So, the Rail Link will try to listen while folks like Linsey hope they are heard.

“We will do our part to try to minimize those disruptions but we also encourage people their city, county, local or state government to talk about different infrastructure movements that could be made,” Lane says. “There are a variety of different funding sources that communities can look at to build an under or overpass to go over a track. Montana Rail Link and other railroads only own largely between the ties. That’s why we don’t pay for public infrastructure and why that funding needs to come from either the federal, state or local level.”

“We just need to shed some light on it and get the spotlight out there to say hey, now’s the time,” Kallestad says.

Anyone who does have a complaint or wants to file one can do so by calling (406)523-1500.

You are also encouraged to email Ross Lane at rlane@mtrail.com or call his number at (406)523-1438.

Reporting by Cody Boyer for MTN News