Is there any scarier feeling than the sense of helplessness of having your vehicle stuck on a busy set of railroad tracks during a dark evening rush hour. The moment of panic when you realize that your vehicle, with two children inside, is not moving unless you get help, and quick?

That happened at least one time last week in Riverside at the Cowley Road grade crossing, to which there is an unusually steep approach on either side. Additional snow that accumulated on the evening of Feb. 3 combined with snow being pushed off the tracks by passing trains made it difficult for some cars to make it up the approach.

Others, once atop the grade crossing got hung up in ruts created by snow and ice buildup between the rails. Even at more easily traversed grade crossings, like the one at Longcommon Road, the ice buildup between rails made for a very rough ride across the tracks.

So, the obvious question was, “Why weren’t the crossings cleared of that buildup?”

According to the railroad, it’s the municipality’s job to clear the crossings. But the railroad also doesn’t want their rails and switching equipment harmed, so they don’t want the crossings salted.

And, of course, running a plow over the crossings exposes both the rails and the plows to damage — the liability for which will land on the village’s head. 

As a result, the village’s longstanding policy for snow removal at crossings has been neither to salt nor plow them. Last week, after the scare on Feb. 3, the village did call the railroad and ask them to clear snow off the Cowley Road and Harlem Avenue crossings. 

And because the railroad did that, it sent a mixed message. Is the village responsible, or did the railroad just admit it was their job?

Railroads can be monolithic entities. They kind of live by their own rules, whether its blocking every grade crossing in town for a half hour or blasting whistles at 2 a.m., they pretty much do as they please.

They own the train stations and platforms for commuters, but municipalities have to maintain them. It’s not surprising that the railroad believes it’s a municipality’s responsibility to clear snow off grade crossings. 

But if, in fact, that’s the case then the railroad needs to do a better job communicating its beliefs, because Riverside certainly wasn’t clear on what was required.

Riverside Village Manager Jessica Frances vowed last week that the village would be in contact with the railroad to settle the matter to avoid situations like those last week. We’re just glad that it was something just scary, and not truly tragic, that prompted the conversation.

Though that’s small consolation to the mother of two kids staring at a train headlight in the distance coming closer as she frantically tried to get her van off the tracks.