Norfolk Southern trains have frequently closed crossings in a small town in Indiana, prompting schoolchildren to dangerously risk their lives by climbing under and over train cars that begin moving without warning.
Lamira Samson, of Hammond, has dealt with train woes for years, often faced with the decision to keep her son, Jeremiah Johnson, 8, home from school or help him climb the side of a sliding Norfolk South train between cars.
Hesse Elementary is only four blocks from the train tracks, but it is often one of the most difficult destinations to get to. Not wanting her son to miss a photo day or another day of class, the mother listened to the hum of the train engine. When she couldn’t find one, she helped her son onto the train platform and squeeze between the cars to the other side as fast as she could.
Samson and Johnson weren’t the only ones facing this daily inconvenience, as dozens of students were seen making the dangerous move. Kids are often seen sporting their Frozen and Space Jam backpacks and puffy winter coats, zipping themselves up.
‘I don’t want to be crushed,’ said an unidentified eighth-grade student. ProPublica After I stood nervously watching the train for 10 minutes. The girl saw many trains start moving without warning and warned that they would crash.
A little girl in a bright red trench coat dangerously crawls under a Norfolk Southern train to cross the tracks to get to school in Hammond, Indiana — where trains often stop for hours, leaving residents to work out a sticky situation.
A little boy gets on a train on his way to school. The city’s school district superintendent, as well as the mayor, have tried various tactics — including asking Norfolk on their own schedule — to help mitigate the problem, but they run into opposition each time.
However, Norfolk said they are concerned that children are choosing to crawl dangerously over and under trains to pass trains and will sound alarm systems to alert residents when a train is about to start moving.
Prior to September 2018, a train could not legally block a crossing for more than 10 minutes in Indiana. The Indiana Supreme Court has struck down a 150-year-old law that allowed law enforcement to fine train companies for obstructing railroad crossings. The court said the banned statue was previously exempt under the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995.
Now, trains block crossings for hours or sometimes days, shutting down between five and six crossings, leaving residents trapped with no options but to choose a life-threatening route.
In a video posted online, a girl in a bright red giant is caught writhing under a train car in Hammond. Despite her shiny outer garment, she was barely visible under the falling train car.
It took her more than 10 seconds to crawl safely over the railroad tracks.
Grade 7 teacher Brandi Odom told ProPublica that her students are often late for school several times a week because of trains and fellow teachers have to watch more than one class in the morning because of the staff’s inability to get around the tracks.
“I feel terrible about it,” Superintendent Scott E. Miller told ProPublica about the pressures students face trying to get to school.
Miller said he asked for the Norfolk Southern train schedule so they could appropriately plan the school day around it, but the company — which was behind the derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, that left toxic chemical poisoning in the small town — refused to release him.
Lamira Samson (R) has been dealing with train troubles for years, often faced with the decision to keep her son, Jeremiah Johnson, eight, (L) home from school or help him climb the side of the Norfolk South train. between cars
Hesse Elementary is only four blocks from the train tracks, but it is often one of the most difficult destinations to get to. Not wanting her son (pictured) to miss a photo shoot or another day of class, the mother listened to the train engine whirring. When she couldn’t find one, she helped her son onto the train platform and squeeze between the cars to the other side as fast as she could.
When Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. called the company, she brushed it off, telling him the railroads “were here first.”
“To them, I’m nobody,” he told ProPublica. “They don’t pay attention to me.” They don’t respect me. They don’t care about Hammond. They just do what they want.
However, when contacted by ProPublica, the fourth-largest US rail company said it was concerned about children climbing on trains.
“It is never safe for members of the public to attempt to cross cars,” company spokesperson Conor Spellmaker told ProPublica. “We understand that a stopped train is frustrating, but trains can move on at any time and with little warning – especially if you are so far away from the locomotive that the warning bell sounds when the train starts.”
Port trains are usually held up for hours, industry experts said, due to crew overruns or rail-switching practices.
Transport Minister Pete Buttigieg said the video was “shocking” and said “more” needed to be done.
“No one can watch a video of a child having to climb over or under a railway carriage to get to school and think that everything is fine.”
“I was blown away,” said Indiana State Representative Caroline Jackson.
Prior to September 2018, trains could only block crossings in Indiana for more than 10 minutes, however that has changed since then, leaving residents and law enforcement powerless to stop the ongoing problem.
Children must climb the platform to reach the other side of the track
“I hope they do something about it and we don’t have to wait for a parent to have to bury their child,” she told ProPublica.
Indiana is among the top five states with the highest number of complaints about blocked railroad crossings. Texas tops the list followed by Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Tennessee.
The Federal Railroad Administration has documented more than 30,000 complaints — nearly 1,000 of them involving trains blocking crossings for a day.
Norfolk Southern said trains make frequent stops in Hammond because it’s a suburb of Chicago — the busiest train hub in the country. It is also between two busy train interactions, which must remain open.
The company said it would review whether or not it could raise the sound of its alarm systems so that pedestrians and drivers are alerted that a train is about to move from a remote location.
The Department of Transportation will announce a new program this spring or summer — at a cost of $3 billion — to help remove restricted crossings, according to ProPublica.
Several states – such as Virginia, Washington and Arizona – have proposed limiting train lengths, but all have failed to change the laws as the largest railroad companies said they were violating interstate commerce laws.