RR seeks CR150E closure


Editor, The Daily Clarion

PRINCETON—An attorney for Norfolk Southern Railroad says the County Road 150 East crossing just south of Ind. 64 East should be closed, but county commissioners voted to keep the county road open.

While commissioners voted 2-0 to keep the crossing open, it’s possible that Indiana Dept. Transportation will have the last word.

County Attorney Jim McDonald said the county will be required to answer the railroad’s petition to close the crossing with findings of facts to support a compelling reason to keep it open.

If Norfolk Southern opts to appeal the county’s decision, INDOT officials will conduct a hearing and make the final binding decision, McDonald explained after Tuesday night’s public hearing regarding the petition.

An INDOT representative attended Tuesday’s hearing and heard input from attorney Jim Olds, making the request on behalf of the railroad, as well as residents and emergency response agencies that oppose the closure.

Olds said the CR150E, which is southeast of Princeton city limits “goes right through” the middle of Norfolk Southern’s five-track rail yard, which includes a main line track, a siding track and three yard tracks.

“The greater the number of tracks, the greater the safety issue,” Olds told commissioners. He said trains travel at 35 mph through the crossing. Train traffic includes eight regular trains a day, four through coal trains and three to four trains a day for Toyota, not counting the switching operations.

“This crossing is going to be blocked 15 to 20 times a day for varying lengths of time,” Olds told commissioners. “..There’s not a whole bunch that Norfolk Southern can do to avoid this,” he said. With trains 10,000 feet long, “it’s inevitable the crossings going to be blocked.”

Olds said the railroad has lines in 22 states and Indiana has more crossings per track miles than any other state — and more incidents. “The problem has gotten worse as train traffic increases,” he said. As the economy grows and traffic increases, he predicted the problem will only grow.

He cited some statistics on local traffic on the road based from 2001, but locals said the traffic is higher with Toyota workers in the area.

“The railroad understands this is an inconenience,” he said, but told commissioners that “inconvenience by itself is not a compelling reason to keep it open...”

Commissioner Gerald Bledsoe said the sheriff’s office has issued tickets for trains that have blocked the crossing for six to eight hours at a time — “somewhere around 50 tickets only given once per day,” he reported.

Princeton Fire Territory Chief Mike Pflug sent a written statement requesting that the crossing stay clear for safety response, rather than keeping trains parked at the crossing for extended periods of time.

Ambulance director Jim Allen said the blocked crossing causes problems with response times. “If you’re gonna block it, you need to let them (dispatchers) know.”

Jim Tate, who lives south of the tracks, brought a notebook full of dates he’s observed the crossing blocked by idle trains. He said the railroad once blocked the crossing for five days. The blocked access causes some residents of that area to travel an additional 2,245 miles a year to get to work, he estimated.

Tate said the blocked access affects grain trucks, farm implements and safety response. He said semis have gotten stuck at the blocked crossing because there’s no safe place to turn around.

James R. Hall said he’s encountered times when several county road crossings were blocked by the train. “Let them build an overpass,” he suggested.

Fred Breiten lives just north of the tracks, and said the blocked access caused life-threatening delays in ambulance response time for his family.

Sheriff TIm Bottoms said emergency response is affected. “This is very ridiculous. People’s lives are at stake. We’ve heard here that one person died, and it’s going to happen again,” he said. “If they have no more respect for people of this county than that, there’s a bigger problem.”

Bottoms said he plans to continue issuing citations when the railroad violates the state statute regarding blocked crossings.

County Engineer John Umpleby and area resident Paul Lynch also said they support keeping the crossing open.

“I’m just afraid this will wind up in Indianapolis,” Board of Commissioners President Gerald Bledsoe said.

Commissioner Steve Bottoms offered the motion to deny the petition, based on safety concerns, which passed 2-0 with Bledsoe’s support. Commissioner Alan Douglas was not present.

“Commissioners will do everything we can to stop this and push for an overpass,’ said Bledsoe. “How this will end up, I have no idea. All we can do, is try.”

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