The 2013 openings of two new Wales Road bridges in place of three busy, and sometimes blocked, railroad crossings have certainly reduced train-related delays for motorists using Northwood’s main east-west thoroughfare. But there always seems to be a trade-off, and in this case, the new bridge over the Norfolk Southern tracks has directly led to the nearby crossing at Lemoyne Road being blocked more often.
At about the same time as the Ohio Department of Transportation was putting up the beams for that new structure, Norfolk Southern was putting up new signals for the “Vickers Crossing” junction as part of a broader, on-going signal modernization program along its entire line between Cleveland and Chicago.
While the old signals for westbound trains entering Vickers were between the former grade crossings at Wales and Drouillard roads, however, the new signals are just east of the new Wales bridge, or roughly a quarter mile closer to Lemoyne. When they were placed in service last August, that meant that any westbound train getting a red light at Vickers needed to stop a quarter mile farther east than it used to.
While long trains sometimes blocked Lemoyne even with the old signals, having a quarter mile less space to work with means trains that much shorter now also block the crossing while waiting for a better signal.
It also means that many more trains that get parked in the siding track along the two main-line tracks through that area are too big to fit, so their crews must uncouple cars to make a break at Lemoyne.
Assuming compliance with the “cut-crossing” requirement -- which sometimes doesn’t happen if a crew parks its train just as the 12-hour federal limit on its working time expires -- an uncoupled train later has to be coupled back together. Doing that and re-testing its air brakes can take half an hour or more, time during which Lemoyne is blocked.
And why was the signal moved a quarter mile closer to Lemoyne Road? Because of the new bridge, which the railroad determined to impair the old signal location’s visibility to train crews.
At the very least, Norfolk Southern could have placed the west-end signal for the siding track at the former Wales crossing on a ground-mounted pole, because trains rarely just roll through that siding and go out the far end without stopping. That would have reduced the number of parked trains needing to cut Lemoyne -- a time-saver for the railroad as well as a reduced inconvenience for drivers.
But either nobody thought of that, or it was ruled out because it would have cost a bit more money to put the siding’s signal up at a different spot than the signals for the main line.
What to do? Well, Northwood police could probably go out and write tickets to trains that block the crossing longer than five minutes, but that rarely has much effect on railroad operations. And if a train really is only going to wait, say, 10 minutes at a Vickers red signal, it’s counterproductive to demand that it cut the Lemoyne crossing, because by the time it’s broken apart and put back together again, a lot more than 10 minutes of blockage will elapse.
So the best suggestion I have to offer is to avoid using Lemoyne Road as a through route between Woodville and Walbridge roads. If necessary, use I-280 instead, or just take Pemberville Road if that’s a convenient alternative.