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Greenwood mayor: ‘concerned’ rail upgrade will leave intersections without crossing arms

GREENWOOD (WISH) – A massive rail project between Indianapolis and Louisville will lead to heavier and faster trains rolling through Indiana communities, if the $100 million project is approved by a federal agency.

The Surface Transportation Board could rule at anytime.

It’s a story I-Team 8 first reported on in December.

But there is growing concern that the project’s potential approval could leave many Indiana communities with faster, heavier trains and fewer crossing arms to protect motorists.

It’s not a question of whether more crossing arms are needed along the 106-mile stretch. It’s a question of who will pay for them, according to Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers.

Print shop employee Jerry Beasley often finds himself looking out the window of his Greenwood printing shop as trains pass by. With the start of baseball season nearing, he prints more than 600 jerseys a day. But it’s another game that catches his eye – cars playing chicken with approaching trains.

“You are really scared sometimes when people try to beat the train,” explained Beasley.

Right now, Greenwood averages about three or four trains a day, which is enough to tie up traffic in the afternoons. But that could change if a shared use plan between CSX and Louisville-Indiana Railroad is approved by the Surface Transportation Board.

The plan calls for upgrading the line allowing for heavier, faster trains and more of them.

“There’s not much before 11 a.m., not much after 1 p.m., but the one that comes between 4:30 p.m. and 5 p.m,, it’s a mess. It’s a mess,” explained Beasley.

“Right now we are used to them doing 15 miles per hour. They are going to be doing 50 miles per hour. They think they can still out run that train and if there is not a crossing arm they are going to try,” said Mayor Mark Myers of Greenwood.

Most, if not all, of the seven railroad crossings in Greenwood lack stop arms, but many do have warning lights and audible signals. Myers said.

“That’s a big concern. Just to continue with the same lights and bells that we have is not sufficient,” explained Mayor Myers.

Mayor Myers is taking his concerns to Washington, DC this weekend to meet with Indiana’s Congressional delegation. He’s hoping his trip will help through some political weight towards encouraging the rail companies to pay for safety features. CSX has said it will help survey trouble spots but will leave payment to the state and cities like Columbus and Greenwood.

“But again this should fall back to the rail companies, if they are going to increase their traffic load, if they are going to increase their speed, they should upgrade the crossing too,” said Mayor Myers.

CSX considers crossing arms to be “traffic control devices” and told I-Team 8 in January that it would be up to cities and towns to secure funding for them.

“State and local governments decide which type of signal is appropriate at each public crossing and obtain necessary funding. CSX and LIRC will then install and/or maintain the devices,” according to a January statement provided to I-Team 8.

When asked for comment for today’s report, CSX spokeswoman Kristin Seay sent an updated statement, that read in part:

“If the project is approved, CSX and LIRC will assist the appropriate state and local agencies in a survey of rail at-grade crossings to determine the adequacy of existing grade crossing signal systems and signage, and sources of funding for the projects.   Crossing signals are motor vehicle traffic control devices and are therefore determined by the applicable state or local roadway authority.  CSX and LIRC will install and/or maintain the publicly funded devices determined appropriate by the state or local government at each crossing.”

Publicly funded, according to Myers, means it will likely fall to INDOT to pay for any crossing arms. Myers worries that INDOT’s allocation of state funds for railroad crossing arms is minimal.

“But again this should fall back to the rail companies. If they are going to increase their traffic load, if they are going to increase the speed of the trains… they should pay to upgrade the crossings too.”

In December, I-Team 8 talked with the Mayor Kristen Brown of Columbus who wanted to build an overpass to avoid increased congestion resulting from the project. At the time, the Indiana Department of Transportation said it would cost $35 million.

There’s likely no money for that.

A message left for John Goldman, President of the Louisville-Indiana railroad was not returned before news time.

Goldman and supporters of the rail upgrade have promised the project will help grow jobs and attract businesses along the railroad. The scope of the project is expected to take seven years to complete, although Myers told I-Team 8 he heard it could be sooner.

The project still has to be approved by the federal government, and there’s no time table for when that will happen.

Read about our previous reports here and here.