SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Drivers across the Ozarks are finding themselves with a new kind of major delay- caused not by traffic but by trains.  Wait times at rail crossings are growing exponentially as the railroads run longer trains than ever before.  

“It has gotten worse throughout the years.,” stated Lin Burks of Republic.  Her shop, Unique Treasures, and Furniture are located next to the tracks on Republic’s Main Street.  She tells Fox 49 News she has been watching the trains and her wait times getting longer.

“They come on both sides,” she explained. “The train will come this way and then you think finally. and then a train comes this way, and you are still sitting.”   

Until recent years, most trains were less than a mile long. Now, the major railroad companies are running trains a mile and a half, to two miles long. In a few instances, the lines of railcars can stretch for three miles The longer trains mean drivers find themselves spending more time waiting for trains to pass by. 

Burks said, “You do not want to set and wait.  Other times you don’t want to sit and wait and you just have to go around. “

Residents in Springfield like Robert Johnson are experiencing similar frustrations.  

“I go on a route on Barnes Street and the trains are always there,” Johnson said. “You must wait a good ten or fifteen minutes and everything.  

The major railroads have explained they can run these longer trains with fewer crews, which helps during their ongoing staffing shortage. However, the employment situation for this industry may not be all the fault of the pandemic.  Prior to Covid, the nation’s railroads laid off a combined 30% of their workforces during sweeping cost-cutting measures designed to boost efficiency and profits.   When the economy rebounded, the railroad found itself without enough help and began reporting major issues finding enough workers to replenish the ranks.  

BNSF Railway, the main rail carrier serving Springfield, is one of the companies testing the limits of trains lengths.  The Fort Worth-based company didn’t have anyone to go on camera.  However, in a statement, Ben Wilemon, BNSF External Corporate Communications Manager, explained the railway’s perspective: 

BNSF is committed to transporting the essential goods that families and businesses across America require as efficiently as possible. On average, our trains operating through Springfield are approximately 8,000 feet in length. Sometimes where feasible, we have combined two shorter trains, which boosts productivity offering the benefits of a reduction of whistles usage and a reduction of the number of trains operating through crossings where our lines intersect with motorists.”

Measures like this seem to be working- at least for the railroad companies.  In 2021, BNSF posted a record $6 billion in earnings.  All the while, the rest of us are stuck waiting as the trains roll by.  

Residents say they understand the important role the railroads play in our nation’s commerce.  For now, there is little anyone can do but be patient and plan for the wait.  

Johnson said, “It’s just what it is.  Everybody must make a living so that’s what it is.”

“It is just a part of life, unfortunately,” Burks said.    Residents aren’t the only ones having issues.  For emergency responders, the delays can be a life or death matter.  On Tuesday, in part two of “Stopped in Your Tracks,” Fox 49 News looks at how firefighters are dealing with the challenges of miles-long trains