Trains cross through Claremore, blocking transportation, 40 times a day. As previously reported, it is estimated that the number of trains will continue to grow.
From September 2017 to August 2018, Claremore Police reports show that close to 30 trains stopped on the tracks blocking at least one intersection.
Most stops were resolved in under an hour, and did not block the most highly-trafficked intersections. For one instance, a train blocked an intersection for six hours.
In the same time, there were more than 35 reports of malfunctioning traffic arms and lights. When the safety arms are down, regardless of whether or not a train is present, it is illegal and considered dangerous for drivers to cross the tracks.
Either can be a serious issue in the case of an emergency.
Representatives from the Claremore fire, police and ambulance services spoke about how their services independently navigate the trains in Claremore.
Fire Chief Sean Douglas
“The trains have been here since the fire department has been here,” Douglas said, explaining the foresight of previous leaders in establishing three fire stations around town to minimize the chance of everybody getting stuck on one side of the tracks.
The trains don’t typically affect the department’s four minute response times, only the ways in which crews are deployed.
“It’s a normal thing that if they see a train they’ll have another station respond to the call,” Douglas said.
Firefighters at Stations 1 and 2 are close enough that they can look outside and know when there is a train blocking their ability to respond to a call. Most of the response area for Station 3 doesn’t require them to cross any tracks. However, Station 3 does responds to Station 1 or 2’s areas if they can’t.
“It becomes an issue if everybody is on one side of the tracks, which isn’t real common,” Douglas said. “If we have a fire, we send all three stations anyway. We have a fairly low incidence of fires to begin with it.”
The Claremore Fire Department runs about 2,200 calls a year. The majority of them are medical first response related.
“Between having three stations and three crews 24 hours a day in service, we’re usually able to manage it,” Douglas said.
In the rare instances when they can’t, they are also able to call for mutual aid from surrounding communities.
“Most of the delays are fairly minimal if we do have one,” he said. “If it is a serious block, we can eventually find a way around it.”
Finding a way around the problem, Douglas said, “It’s just one of those realities of living in a train town.”
“Ideally we’d like to have some underpasses or overpasses, but those are very expensive,” he said. “As a fire department we’re always supportive of those measures because they are going to help our response times and cut down the chances of being delayed.”
Deputy Police Chief Steve Cox
“We try, when we can prepare, to make sure that our officers are located in various spots, just in case,” Cox said.
When a call is placed to 911, dispatch takes the report, determines the location and urgency and plugs that information into the computer. The computer makes a recommendation for the number of and nearest officers, determined by GPS in the officers’ cars, and the dispatcher instructors certain officers to respond.
“We utilize technology to dispatch the officer who can respond to that the quickest. If we had somebody that was close to the call but already on another call, the system would take that into account, reach out a little bit farther and grab the next available officer that can get there,” Cox said.
However, when a dispatched officer is blocked by a train, their next steps depend on if the call is an emergency.
In a non-emergency, they typically wait where they are for the train to move.
In an emergency, “Any officer that is delayed by a train will always come on their police radio and let dispatch know, which also lets other officers that are listening know,” Cox said.
“Even if they weren’t dispatched to that call, if an officer heard that a train was blocking dispatch to an emergency, they would just self-respond to that call knowing that we need to get across, and they would look for a different route,” Cox said. “We all work in Claremore. We know that we have trains. We know that we have problems. All of our officers will let everybody know on the radio if there is a train blocking, or even just taking up an intersection for a time.”
Pafford Medical Services Area Manager Sterling Nichols
In general, Pafford employs the same tactic as the police department, positioning their six ambulances across town at multiple locations.
“Our dispatch center has all of the ambulances on a map and they can see every ambulance in the Pafford coverage area,” Nichols said. “If they get a call on the other side of the tracks, first thing they’re going to do is look to see if they have a truck that is closer.”
“There are times that we just have to wait. Fortunately the trains do come through Claremore at a pretty high rate of speed, so the wait is usually less than 5 minutes,” he said. “Of course that can be very critical. Everything we do is based off of time.”
He said that as far as he is aware, there has not been a major incident caused by the delay. The typical response time for Pafford within the city is close to 7 minutes.