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DIGGING DEEPER: Railroad Rubble

STEUBEN COUNTY, Ind. (WPTA 21) – A growing concern for residents in one Steuben County neighborhood. Railroad rubble is piling up right across from their homes, and they are not happy about it.

It’s a problem folks at Pleasant Lake say began at least 6 years ago, and they want to know why the railroad company won’t clean up the heaping pile of scrap.

The residents on Pleasant Lake say this is a relatively quiet neighborhood, other than the trains that run between the houses.

“It’s not like the rich part of pleasant lake, but it’s Pleasant Lake, this is our home. We take pride in it the best we can,” said Michelle Cummings who has lived at Pleasant Lake for 12 years.

Cummings says for the past 6 years railroad scrap has been piling up, “The pile behind me is the bad pile, the one that keeps getting taller and taller and taller. The pile to my left, the small one that’s the good pieces.”

A quick look on google maps, from a birds eye, shows the scrap pile. Zooming in shows the pile back was there in September of 2013. As the scrap heap grows, so too grow frustrations in the community.

“They’re greedy they got a grant to better the railroads, to better their tracks. They could have gotten rid of it. Bring in a car, put it all in a car, take it down the road where there are no residential houses, so anybody doesn’t have to see it,” said Cummings.

Cummings says her mother-in-law hired a lawyer a few years ago, but the lawyer said there was nothing they could do about it. Adding that they couldn’t take on the railroad company.

“We’ve done everything. If we want to sell our house, we can’t sell our house because we’ve got this eyesore that’s getting taller and taller,” Cummings said.

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It’s not just an eyesore, it’s a safety concern too. Cummings said, “You’ll see there’s like little spikes and little plates and everything. But it keeps getting higher and higher and higher.”

Cummings tells ABC 21 she spoke with Indiana Northeast Railroad years ago about the problem.

“The owner about 3 years ago when I spoke to him, because he was here, I asked him about it. His exact words to me were I’m not going to get rid of it until the price of scrap goes up,” she said.

We reached out to Indiana Northeast Railroad and got a “no comment,” though a spokesperson did acknowledge that the company is aware of the situation and has been for some time. The spokesperson also said it’s the railroad company’s property, and they’ve discussed someone buying scraps to clean it up.

“I wish they would just take it upon themselves to just come get it. I understand it’s their property, but it’s an eyesore to the residents out here. Who wants to see scrap? Whether scrap is up or down, just take it get rid of it. That’s money in your pocket,” said Cummings.

Because of their unique nature- railroads are in a league of their own when it comes to regulation. So what responsibility does Indiana Northeast Railroad have regarding both safety and cosmetic matters along its routes? And does the Federal Railroad Administration have the authority to initiate corrective action in this matter?

We’ve reached out with hopes of having those questions answered. The FRA said they don’t have any regulations addressing debris on railroad property and recommended we reach out to local, county, and state officials.

We will reach out to those officials and let you know when we hear back.

Kaitlyn Kendall

Kaitlyn Kendall is a main anchor and chief investigative reporter for ABC21.

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