THE CITY OF DURAND, through negotiations with railroad officials over the summer, has achieved some relief from trains that unnecessarily block city streets. In the past, parked trains such as the one shown in the photo above would have blocked traffic on both N. Oak and W. Main streets, even though the train is not affecting the W. Main Street crossing. Censors that activate the crossing gates and lights were recently moved closer to the crossings, which has decreased the amount of time city streets are blocked unnecessarily.
(Independent Photo/Graham Sturgeon)
by Graham Sturgeon, co-editor
Regional government relations directors from Genesee & Wyoming Inc. (G&W) and the Canadian National Railway (CN) met with representatives of the city of Durand recently to find a solution to the issue of trains unnecessarily blocking roadways in the Durand area. The group of Durand representatives, which is led by Durand City Council member Dr. Brian Boggs and includes city manager Colleen O’Toole, police chief Jason Hartz, and council member John Matejewski, along with State Rep. Ben Frederick, has successfully negotiated a resolution to the problem Dr. Boggs calls a danger to the health, safety, and welfare of Durand residents.
New censors were installed along the rails in Durand that tell the crossing gates when to lower and block traffic. The new circuitry, it was recently discovered, was placed too far from the road crossings, or outside the minimum requirements, which caused gates to be lowered unnecessarily. To correct the problem, CN and G&W have moved the censors closer to the crossings, to the minimum distance required, which has reduced the frequency of unnecessary blockages.
After the increase in blockages was realized earlier this year, O’Toole initiated a study to determine exactly how often crossings were blocked unnecessarily, and for how long, which was carried out by Hartz and the Durand Police Department. Dr. Boggs says that Hartz’s data was essential in proving to the railroad representatives that there was, in fact, a problem. Rep. Frederick also played an essential role in the negotiations, as his connections and status as a member of the Michigan House of Representatives helped bring the railroad representatives to the negotiating table.
One other piece of this puzzle is the ordinance the city council approved in August that allows the city to fine railroad companies for blocking roads unnecessarily. This carrot or stick approach paid off, according to Dr. Boggs, since it proved the city meant business.
The talks also gave the Durand representatives a chance to build a better relationship with the railroads, after years of contentious interactions. The railroads have promised to continue to work with their crews to ensure roads are blocked only when necessary. Dr. Boggs reports that the moving of the censors has already begun to show results.
The improved relationship is paying off in other ways as well, as CN recently recommended the city of Durand for a beautification/landscaping grant that would provide up to $20,000 in matching funds to be used to spruce up the areas adjacent to the tracks. Also, the city is exploring the possibility of adding a sidewalk along N. Oak Street between the post office and the tracks. A committee will soon be established to create a plan for how to best utilize the grant funds.