Extended Train Stoppages Frustrate Residents, Alarm First Responders

The railroad is a part of life in Canby, and that can bring occasional frustrations — like having to wait several minutes for a passing train on the way home, to an appointment or the grocery store.

But, after a train stalled on the tracks for almost four hours Saturday — blocking all of the main routes into and out of downtown Canby and the north side of town — some residents and city officials have had enough.

“I have lived here for over 40 years and never seen it stopped in town as much as it’s been in the last two weeks,” one local resident told The Canby Current. “This is not OK. Stopping for like 20 minutes is one thing, but for four hours? The other day it was rush hour traffic and you couldn’t cross the tracks.”

Police and fire officials have had it, too, and they worry the extended and unexpected blockages could seriously hinder their ability to respond to an emergency on the other side of town.

“I’ve never seen it like this,” Fire Chief Jim Davis agreed. “We’ve had at least four trains blocking the railroad crossings in Canby in the past six weeks, some of them for over three hours at a time. It’s causing a huge safety issue for emergency response units getting across town for medical and fire calls, and the police department is extremely concerned as well.”

Police Chief Jorge Tro confirmed this. Since 2019, the Canby Fire District has been working to establish a northside medical station with funds from a voter-approved bond — a strategy that was motivated in no small part by the existence of the railroad that cuts the town of Canby neatly in two.

The north station is still under construction (estimated completion next year), but Canby Fire still stages a medical crew over there when a train is blocking the tracks for an extended period.

CPD, however, has no such workaround. Canby Police has only its main headquarters — located on the north side of town.

“We can be a little more mobile, at times, because we’ll have patrol units dispersed throughout the city,” Tro explained. “But it’s always a concern if a train is blocking the roadways for that long, and we have to go down to Barlow and back to respond to an emergency.”

During each of the previous incidents, Davis said he followed standard protocol — contacting Union Pacific Railroad’s emergency dispatch to report the issue — but he admits he is frustrated by the lack of response or explanation.

“I know, one time, they said they were in the process of connecting trains in Canby,” he recalled. “Then, three and a half hours later, they were still connecting, supposedly. I’ve received numerous complaints from the community on this. I get calls all the time from citizens saying, ‘What the heck?'”

First responders also have the option of removing the bollards on the Molalla Forest Road Logging Trail, but it’s not an ideal solution.

The trail is popular with pedestrians, dog walkers, cyclists and children — particularly during the summer months — and Davis said the aging overpass has not been surveyed in recent years to ensure it’s still structurally sound enough to be traversed by large fire engines and other emergency vehicles.

Both Davis and Tro have reached out to the railroad this week to open a dialogue about the stoppages and — ideally — convince them to park elsewhere when they need to stop for an extended period of time.

So far, their calls have not been returned. And, unfortunately, if UP declines to voluntarily change its practices, opportunities for enforcement are likely to be very limited.

Oregon once had, as recently as 2009, laws on the books that prohibited trains from blocking road crossings for more than 10 minutes — except in cases of equipment failure or breakdown.

But when the state attempted to enforce the rule on one railroad company, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company sued — and won. The judge, our current attorney general, Ellen Rosenblum, found that Oregon’s attempt to regulate railroads in this way was preempted by federal law.

Numerous, similar regulations in other states have also been struck down over the years.

Canby officials hope to reason with the higher-ups at UP — before a tragedy occurs.

“In terms of the law, there’s nothing that would stop a citizen from filing a lawsuit for delaying their emergency service if it’s something very serious,” Davis said. “But the bottom line is we don’t want that to happen. We think there are a lot of other places they could stop these trains, and we’re just hoping they will agree to do that.”

The Canby Current also reached out to UP representatives Monday, but did not hear back.

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