Train blocks railroad crossing: Forces EMS to reroute transport of 1 year old to hospital
By Eugenia Jones
Living in Strunk, the parents of Korbyn Vanover know firsthand the frustration of Norfolk Southern trains blocking the Mount Pleasant and other nearby roadways for extended periods of time. Last week, a medical emergency with their child resulted in their feeling of frustration escalating into a feeling of fear.
Korbyn’s parents, Amber Hall and Dakota Vanover, were frantic when Amber made a 911 call requesting EMS for their one year old child. A McCreary County paramedic and an advanced level EMT arrived promptly at the Mount Pleasant residence and proceeded in route to Somerset’s Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital with Korbyn, accompanied by her mother, in an ambulance. Korbyn’s father followed closely behind in his vehicle. The emergency run was proceeding smoothly until the ambulance arrived at the Mount Pleasant railroad crossing where the roadway was blocked by a Norfolk Southern train.
EMS Director Jimmy Barnett explained the ambulance driver waited for a few minutes for the train to move but then made the decision to reroute because the train was not moving. The ambulance rerouted by taking the Tom Meadows Road, a narrow, curvy lane which adds approximately another fifteen minutes to the route.
“One large rock hangs out into the roadway making it difficult for an ambulance to pass,” Barnett said.
Korbyn’s mother was understandably concerned about her child.
“We rerouted because they knew this was serious,” Korbyn’s mother said. “Everything turned out OK, but Korbyn had to stay at the hospital for a few hours to be monitored. It was very scary because Tom Meadows Road is a very narrow road. When the train is stopped at the end of Mount Pleasant, there is no other way to pass through. Trains sit there for an hour or more that I know of.”
According to Barnett, this latest incident is not the first time McCreary County’s EMS has been forced to reroute taking a dangerous and more time-consuming route due to a train blocking the Mount Pleasant crossing.
“We’ve had to reroute several times going in or out at that crossing,” Barnett said. “It’s of great concern for us. If we are performing CPR on a patient or transporting a critical patient, fifteen minutes of extra travel time can make the difference between life and death. It’s a big concern.”
Korbyn’s mother has nothing but praise for the EMS workers who treated and transported her child.
“They were very supportive and kept me calm,” Hall said. “They were very helpful and concerned as if it was their own child.”
According to McCreary County’s State Representative Kenneth Upchurch, a project for construction of a bridge to eliminate the railroad crossing at Mount Pleasant is in the state’s current road plan. Funding for design of the project is targeted for fiscal year 2021 with right of way funding allotted in fiscal year 2023. Construction funding is budgeted for 2025. Total funding for the project exceeds $6 million.
“We put this project in the road plan because there is difficulty in getting emergency services to the community,” Upchurch stated. “The project is designed to improve safety and mobility. We saw the need and took action on it. However, it does take time for construction to get started.”
In 2018, McCreary County Sheriff Randy Waters and his deputies began issuing citations to Norfolk Southern for blocking roadways after receiving multiple reports of trains sitting idle and blocking intersections in McCreary County. According to reports, it is not uncommon for Norfolk Southern to block the intersection for hours at a time. The McCreary County Sheriff’s Office began citing train units for obstructing highways under KRS 525.140, which states no railroad company shall obstruct a street for more than five minutes at a time. The Sheriff’s Department in neighboring Pulaski County also issued citations to trains blocking intersections in that county.
As a result, the American Association of Railroads filed suit against the Sheriffs and County Attorneys in both McCreary and Pulaski Counties and asked the Court to override all citations, claiming the Kentucky laws violate interstate commerce laws.
In 2020, United States District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove ruled in favor of the Association of American Railroads in the federal case against the sheriffs and county attorneys of McCreary and Pulaski Counties. The judge’s ruling states federal law supersedes state law in the case of railroad operations and that while the Court recognized the frustrations of motorists and local law enforcement stemming from extended delays at railroad crossings, the type of limitations included in KRS 277.200 and 525.140 must come from the federal government.
At the time of the ruling, McCreary County Sheriff Randy Waters stated he would comply with the ruling and cease issuing citations but expressed frustration that there was no recourse for those whose lives are affected by stopped trains.
Unfortunately, the Mount Pleasant railroad crossing has surfaced in other tragic events. In 1975, Kentucky State Trooper John Wayne Hutchinson was fatally shot in the Mount Pleasant community. According to the June 10, 1975 edition of The McCreary County Record, KY State Trooper Ed Pierce was near Whitley City when he heard Hutchinson’s call for assistance. After being held up by a train that was crossing at Mt. Pleasant, Trooper Pierce arrived on the scene approximately thirteen minutes after Hutchinson’s last call out to find the wounded Trooper barely alive. Hutchinson was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.
Complaints about crossings blocked by trains in violation of federal or state law can be filed with the FRA at https://www.fra.dot.gov/Page/P0001. Norfolk Southern takes complaints at their Police Communications Center at 1-800-453-0144.