Runners participating in a marathon in Columbus, Ind., on Saturday halted a freight train on the Louisville & Indiana Railroad with some runners climbing over and under it.
The incident occurred during the second annual Mill Race Marathon. The course twice crossed the L&I tracks.
A Witness told WRTV-TV in Indianapolis that the runners stopped for the train on their first meeting. But at the second crossing the train’s conductor ordered the train to stop because running were crossing in front it.
But neither race organizers nor railroad officials expected a train to be moving in the vicinity of the race course once the marathon got underway at 7:30 a.m.
Bartholomew County Emergency Operations Center Director Ed Reuter told The Republic of Columbus that marathon organizers had been assured by L&I officials that no trains would come through.
“We always cooperate and stop train traffic,” said L&I President John Goldman. “That was our intent this morning as well.”
Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown said the railroad had planned to send the train through town before the race began.
Goldman said a young supervisor thought he had more time than he did to get the train through. Goldman said the railroad intends to investigate and is confident that there will not be similar incidents in the future. He noted that nothing like this had happened before.
The witness told WRTV that some runners then climbed over and even ducked under the locomotive.
“There were so many people, and they just wanted to make their time, that they just didn’t care,” the witness said.
Nearly 300 runners completed the marathon. No injuries were reported as a result of the stopped train.
The L&I train began moving through Columbus less than 20 minutes after start of the race.
Andy Pajakowski, a race organizer, tried to negotiate with railroad personnel on the scene, to no avail. Eventually, the train blew a long blast from its horn and started to move forward with runners in the vicinity.
Police held runners back, but could not control the runners and spectators once the train came to a stop.
“We had no clue this would happen,” Pajakowski said. “We worked extra hard to make sure no trains would come through. There were supposed to be no trains.”
After the train halted, some runners crossed in front of it. The course became so clogged with runners that some began curved around the front of it to cross the tracks. Eventually, the course became so clogged that climbing between the rail cars to get back into the race.
“Over, under or around?” was the joke at the finish line, as participants recounted how they bypassed the train.
Columbus police tried to stop runners from climbing between the cars, but as soon as police would stop one stream of runners, although would begin a few cars down.
A photographer for The Republic reported that the locomotive engineer yelled at the runners to stop or they would be arrested, saying “the train has the right of way.”
Not all runners sought to cross the tracks in front of the train or between the rail cars.
“I was yelling at people to stop, but no one was listening,” said Melissa Burgin of New York.
“It was dangerous; the conductor was still trying to move. Shows how runners are stubborn.”
She plans to email race organizers to ask if her time can be adjusted, although organizers said that may not be possible.
Organizers estimated that some runners who were in the middle of the pack of marathon competitors were delayed up to two to three minutes by the train.
Goldman was apologetic about the conductor cutting it close and said he was thankful that no one got hurt. But he insisted that the runners should have stopped.
“I get that it impacts the race outcomes for individuals, but there are a lot of things that can go wrong by climbing through the equipment,” he said, adding that the trade-off for runners trying to get a personal record easily could have turned into fatal mistake.
Craig Dismore, of Columbus, was at the front of the pack and saw the lights flashing.
“I thought, ‘Am I going to get stopped by a train? Really? Is this real?’ ”
Dismore was one of the last runners to make it over the track before the train rolled through the intersection.