For a few minutes Wednesday morning, Newton was nearly cut in half — a train had broken down, leaving a string of stopped railcars parked in Newton.


For a few minutes Wednesday morning, Newton was nearly cut in half — a train had broken down, leaving a string of stopped railcars parked in Newton.

The cars closed crossings at Main, Broadway, High and 12th streets.

“The train had a problem with a bad air line while moving through Newton and could not be moved until it was repaired,” said Steve Forsberg, regional media representative for Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad. “That caused the crossings to be blocked for 30 to 45 minutes.”

But it also raised a question — what if those crossings had been blocked for a longer? A derailment last year led to High Street being blocked for more than a full day.

If train cars were to block all but the Spencer and First street crossings for more than a day, it would cut the city in half. It’s something Courtney Becker, communications director of Harvey County, said emergency services and law enforcement “The fire stations are separated, and law enforcement is diligent. When there is blockage, they are able to deal with it,” Becker said. “They work to get people on both sides of the tracks so we are ready when needed.”

There is a new police sub-station in the south part of Newton — at the Chisholm Trail Center-Outlet and Retail Shops.

“That does keep some officers south of the tracks,” police chief Jim Daily said. “If we have everyone here either filing reports or patrolling north of the tracks, then we have to be concerned about south of the tracks. The substation allows officers to file reports on the south side.”

But for now, Becker said even if there were a long-term blockage of streets because of a rail accident, Newton is ready.

“It doesn’t tend to delay the first responder very much; it might delay the secondary response,” Becker said. “There are always ways to get around. We will get people where we need to be. It might be a challenge in those first minutes, but we will get people where they need to go.”

A train blocking the majority of crossings in town causes one side effect that concerns Daily — frustrated drivers who speed through residential areas to get where they are going.

“People need to be aware that driving through residential areas at a high rate of speed is dangerous,” Daily said. “As frustrated as they may be because of a train not allowing them to get where they are going on time, they need to be aware of the speed limits so we don’t have any unfortunate accidents.”