At The Farm GateConsecutive crossing closures disregard farms, rural residents
Our son cheered, the neighbor texted, a local farmer called twice, and the mailman sighed in relief. Our country road and the next road to the east had re-opened after nearly two weeks of closed railroad crossings that detoured our lives and livelihoods.
Two roads may seem like no big deal and two weeks a small portion of life. But, the morning of those consecutive crossing closures (a surprise to us), we logged an extra 14 miles roundtrip to school. Keep in mind, we don’t have streets as frequent as city blocks out here, but rather roads a mile or more apart. Add to that, roads in this immediate area dead-end to the west. The closings eliminated access to the south. And we have only a curvy gravel road to the north that triggers more motion sickness than it saves time. We drove east to go anywhere, and then west.
I literally called for a compromise. I explained to the railroad representative over the phone that if they closed only one rural crossing at a time – rather than two consecutive ones – then locals would have a reasonable and tolerable detour. He said it was more efficient for them to close two consecutive rural crossings at once for maintenance. That was that. It was their right and obligation to maintain the crossings, and I quickly realized our rights and obligations didn’t matter.
The consecutive crossings closed for more days than contractors worked. Meanwhile, combines held off harvesting fields across the railroad tracks in hopes of a prompt re-opening. A nearby farmer drove 11 miles roundtrip to haul water for his cattle from a farm well typically less than a mile away. And the neighboring fire district likely could beat our home district to the scene if our house caught fire. Worse yet, the fire chief of my district never received official word of the temporary closures.
In this situation, two consecutive crossing closures at once jeopardized the safety of residents north of those railroad tracks, where they temporarily lived miles more away from emergency services. It burdened residents with significant extra traveling time and fuel. And it hampered the livelihoods of farm families during harvest time, a critical season for Illinois’ largest industry. Illinois contains the second most railroad crossings in the nation behind Texas. Throughout Illinois, the next immediate detour for a farmer may require miles more of travel with slow farm equipment or involve a railroad underpass too small for farm machinery.
The removal of the barricades at both crossings that September day released a rhetorical sigh that reciprocated for country miles. Shortly after, the cattle farmer hauled water and a combine crossed the tracks to harvest corn. Half of each crossing awaits updates, so we anticipate another closure. Time will tell if they honor the request to compromise and temporarily close one at a time to regard our safety and livelihoods.
About the author: Joanie Stiers, a wife and mother of two farm kids, writes from west-central Illinois, where her family grows corn, soybeans and hay and raises beef cattle.