Greenwood Railroad Crossings
Writer and Photographer / Jim Eichelman
If you drove your car around Greenwood today, chances are that many of you encountered a potentially dangerous situation and didn’t even realize it. Railroad crossings are so common and familiar to us that we often forget that, at times, tons of metal hurtle across those crossings with the potential to do damage to lives and properties.
The Louisville & Indiana (L&I) Railroad Company owns a rail line, leased by CSX Transportation, running through the city of Greenwood. In total, there are seven points where the rail line crosses streets, which are city responsibility. CSX and L&I unveiled plans to upgrade this rail line from Louisville to Indianapolis, which has been approved by the Federal Surface Transportation Board.
The upgraded rails and foundation will afford CSX opportunity to increase train throughput on this route. The upgrades will allow CSX to:
1. Increase the maximum speed of trains through the area from the current 25 mph to 49 mph
2. Increase the maximum length of trains from 5,000 feet (almost a mile) to 7,200 feet
3. Significantly increase the weight limit of each car in the train
4. Increase the number of trains from five per day to 17 per day
If these increases for trains traveling through the heart of Greenwood don’t concern you, maybe this fact will: the municipality is responsible by federal law for any safety improvements required resulting from this upgrade, but the railroad has no responsibility for this at all. The cost of an upgrade to a cross-arm system can cost up to $300,000, according to Director of Community Development Services and City Engineer Mark Richards.
This planned upgrade with all its consequences concerns Greenwood city officials. Mayor Mark Myers has traveled to Washington three times to seek the assistance from members of Congress to resolve what he believes to be a serious inequity in the law.
Sen. Dan Coats and Rep. Todd Young worked together to lobby the Surface Transportation Board for some relief, resulting in a directive to the rail companies to talk with city leaders about what improvements the city feels are necessary, but according to Myers, “There’s no promise or guarantee that they are going to do anything.”
Once the upgrade is completed (perhaps as early as two years from now) and train traffic increases, the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) will conduct traffic studies to determine if crossing improvements are warranted. Then the state would conduct improvement projects where needed, but with limited funding themselves and nearly 5,800 crossings to consider across Indiana, it is obvious the state can’t take on all projects in a timely fashion.
Mayor Myers and city leaders have concerns about the increase in train traffic, speed, length, etc. First and foremost is public safety. Without improvements, there may not be adequate visibility for people to see or hear trains before it is too late.
Unfortunately, motorists still do try to “beat the train” when a crossing does not have cross arms blocking traffic. The increased speed of trains along with the longer breaking time for the longer, heavier trains increases the risk that motorists will misjudge their abilities to clear the tracks before the train arrives. “People do this all the time. It really scares me,” comments Myers.
Another safety concern is that three of the four city firehouses are located west of the railroad. In the event of an emergency east of the tracks, the city could be faced with 75 percent of their emergency and fire fighting capacity unable to respond while waiting for trains to cross.
A final concern is the increased traffic jams caused by the increased number of trains blocking crossings on major thoroughfares.
But Mayor Myers says, “I don’t give up easy.” He, along with the Mayor of Franklin and several county officials, met to develop a strategy, which includes engaging an expert on rail crossings to proactively assess all Louisville & Indiana crossings in Johnson County. This study will be near completion by the time of this publication.
A report with recommendations and priorities for improvement will be shared with officials from L&I Railroad, CSX Railroad and INDOT as well as municipality and county decision makers, according to Richards. Mayor Myers indicated the Indianapolis Regional Transportation Commission would also be involved in seeking a highway safety grant, which is 90 percent funded by the federal government with the remaining 10 percent becoming a local responsibility.
So take heart. Our government officials are pursuing every avenue to keep us safe. In the meantime, tips on rail crossing safety can be found on numerous websites. INDOT has a tips page at in.gov/indot/2610.htm.