In Hammond, Indiana, children and parents were forced to make the decision multiple times a week: be late to school or crawl under freight trains that block crossings for hours at a time but could also start at any moment. Chilling footage showing these children navigating this impossible situation became the centerpiece of ProPublica and InvestigateTV’s impactful investigation into the effect of blocked crossings on communities across the country.
Blocked crossings bubbled to the top of the reporting list last year as ProPublica investigated a broad range of rail safety issues. Reporters learned that trains were parking in the middle of neighborhoods and refusing to move, even for emergency vehicles. Pedestrians who had tried to climb or crawl over them had been dismembered and killed. Rail workers mentioned the unbelievable scenario of children being forced to risk their lives just to get to school. But the reporters could find no evidence this was more than legend until they spoke with Indiana lawmaker Carolyn Jackson; she pointed reporters to residents of her hometown, Hammond, who had photos of what had become an everyday occurrence.
ProPublica reporters and a still photographer traveled to Hammond and watched, astounded, as the scene unfold before their eyes. Almost immediately, everyone realized that the story needed a television partner. At the same time, ProPublica was getting responses from a national callout in which hundreds of people across the country were reporting problems with blocked crossings. Gray Television, with its hard-charging national team InvestigateTV and its network of local stations across the country, was just what the story needed.
When the InvestigateTV team captured the video footage in Hammond it took the potential for impact to a whole new level. Officials like Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, who do not always agree to interviews, engaged after viewing the footage. Buttigieg watched it, shocked, as cameras rolled. “Nobody can look at a video with a child having to climb over or under a railroad car to get to school and think that everything is OK,” Buttigieg said.