It was the spring of 1999 when Gibson County Commissioners first turned down Norfolk Southern railroad’s request to close several grade crossings with county roads east of Princeton.
We’ve been writing about blocked crossings and railroad/government negotiations for years and years. We think it’s time for the talking to stop and the action to start.
Railroad engineer David Dale reported to commissioners in late July of 1999 that 3.9 miles of double-track passing siding would be completed by the spring of 2000 to allow cars to be moved on and off the tracks to serve Toyota Motor Sales.
Railroad safety specialist W.R. “Bill” Hughes told the county that spring that if the siding project progressed, cars would be blocking the crossings. He asked the county to close the crossings at Outer East Ohio Street, County Road 150 East, County Road 275 East, County Road 300 East and County Road 400 East.
Commissioners turned down the request after several local farmers and business representatives opposed the measure, citing greater safety hazard if farm equipment has to travel U.S. 41 rather than the county roads east of the city.
In August 1999, railroad spokesman Mike Rodgers asked the county to submit a letter of cooperation for the project. Railroad project engineer Mike Thomas told county commissioners at that meeting, “It’s strictly a passing track,” not a siding that would be used to park trains.
The new track started near the Ohio Street crossing, where two Princeton teens died as the truck they were riding in collided with a parked tanker in the middle of that crossing.
Railroad officials told commissioners improvements would be made at the crossings, and reiterated the passing track would be created simply to “facilitate trains passing each other. It should cut down on the time trains have been stopped for long periods of time to allow another train to pass.”
Former County Commissioner Richard Paul suggested the railroad think about building an overpass or underpass.
The railroad came back in June, 2000, to ask the county to close just two crossings, County Road 400 East and County Road 175 South, but after a heated meeting with property owners along the railroad tracks, revised the proposal, asking the county to agree to make County Road 175 South crossing a private locked crossing accessible only by one family which owns property on both sides of the tracks.
Sixteen years have passed since the requests. Trains still block the crossings — for extended periods of time in some cases — according to people who live near them.
The railroad again asked the county earlier this year to close the County Road 150 East crossing, but commissioners denied the request, citing safety issues.
Meanwhile, Gibson County deputies are writing tickets to the railroad, citing Indiana Code that prohibits blocked crossings for more than 10 minutes under most circumstances.
It’s playing out in Gibson Superior Court now, dozens of tickets are being contested by the railroad.
Jim Tate, who lives on the road, faithfully keeps track of the hours and days the CR150E crossing is blocked. He wants the railroad ticketed for every 10-minute time period the train is blocking the crossing, figuring that repeated fines might get the railroad’s attention.
We hope so.
If it doesn’t, someone needs to either unhook the train between shifts if it’s on the crossing — build an overpass — or create a safe and quick alternate route for those who need access to the other side of the crossing.
And it shouldn’t be the taxpayer.
—Comments on Daily Clarion editorials are welcome.