There was nothing mechanically wrong with a CSX train that stopped in the middle of a Town of Tonawanda street earlier this month and blocked traffic for more than two hours.
The crew just got up and left the train sprawled across Woodward Avenue the morning of Feb. 9 because their shift was over, according to Town of Tonawanda Police Chief Jerome C. Uschold III.
CSX dispatchers told Town of Tonawanda police the train would be immovable for about two hours until another crew arrived at the scene, Uschold said in a letter to the Federal Railroad Administration.
"CSX dispatchers went on to explain that the original engineer and crew operating the train had reached their maximum operating time and indicated no mechanical defect to the equipment," Uschold wrote.
The police department was unable to reach a local CSX supervisor that day and the train ended up getting moved without any further explanation from CSX, Uschold wrote.
A spokeswoman for CSX told The Buffalo News on Friday the scenario described by the police chief "is accurate."
But the company also said additional factors compounded the situation that morning. The freight train in question could not move further down the line because of passenger train traffic that received priority to move through the area. There was also winter weather that was affecting rail lines, according to CSX.
The crew on the train ran out of time in their shift, a limit imposed under federal regulations, according to a spokeswoman. The company works hard to plan crew changes in areas that are not disruptive to the public, CSX said.
The company has been working with Tonawanda police and federal regulators and has "made good progress," a spokeswoman said.
"CSX’s top priority is safety, and we take concerns over blocked crossings very seriously," a spokeswoman said in an email. "We are reviewing our operations in the area, while also keeping an open line of communication with local officials in Tonawanda. Our goal is to serve our customers safely and efficiently, while working to keep both rail and roadway traffic fluid."
Federal Railroad Administration officials have asked Tonawanda police and CSX to look into the incident and "take steps to prevent a future recurrence," Desiree French, an agency spokeswoman, said in an email.
But there is no federal regulation regarding the amount of time an idle train may block a public highway at an at-grade crossing, according to the agency, which said it works with communities and railroads when obstructions are widespread or recurring, especially when there are issues of emergency access.
States are not prohibited from enacting laws regarding the blocking of railroad crossings, but the courts have struck down some laws when they affect a railroad's ability to comply with other federal requirements, according to the FRA.