A federal transportation board plans to issue a supplemental environmental assessment late this summer on a proposed $90 million upgrade of a rail line through Jackson County.
The action by the Surface Transportation Board could further delay the CSX Transportation Inc. project, which was first expected to receive approval this past November.
The board originally planned to issue a decision on the application for the joint use of the line but delayed its decision for an additional review based on issues raised during a public comment period.
If eventually approved, the project would allow the number of trains running through Jackson County and Seymour each day to grow from four to as many as 15.
It also would allow CSX to increase its efficiency by routing trains to the line, resulting in savings of about
$11.8 million annually, and allow the Louisville & Indiana Railroad to operate at higher speeds and handle heavier cars over the line.
The initial environmental assessment report was issued Aug. 30, 2013, by the board’s Office of Environmental Analysis. Comments on the report were due Sept. 30, and 16 individuals, groups and state and federal agencies submitted comments.
The Office of Environmental Analysis is now preparing the supplemental environmental assessment for issuance in late summer. A 30-day public comment period and review will begin after the assessment is issued.
Michael Stolzman, president of the Louisville & Indiana Railroad, recently told the Monday Noon Rotary Club in Columbus that he was hopeful the project would obtain federal approval by the end of the summer, allowing for a few months of construction before the end of the year.
He said once approved, the project would first begin upgrades in Seymour and move south to Louisville before work would begin in Columbus. Construction could continue through 2016, Stolzman said.
Issues with project
Six crossings between Seymour and Columbus are being rebuilt this summer. That work, which does not require federal approval, will be starting this month, Stolzman said.
The draft supplemental environmental assessment is focusing on several areas, including grade-crossing safety and vehicle delay, emergency response times and noise and vibration.
Some of those issues were raised by local officials during the initial public comment period.
The environmental assessment also is looking over environmental resource areas such as land use, community resources, water resources, biological resources and air and environmental justice.
The Indiana Department of Transportation was one of the state agencies submitting comments and concerns about the project’s impact on the environment and historic preservation.
Kenneth B. McMullen, environmental policy manager with the department’s Division of Environmental Services, said concerns included possible adverse effects of replacing the Flat Rock River railroad bridge in Bartholomew County and potential impact on emergency vehicles.
Melanie B. Yasbin, an attorney for CSX, summarized each comment and the response of the applicants.
In the case of INDOT’s concerns about the bridge, Yasbin said a letter from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources division of historic preservation and archaeology showed that an engineer determined the bridge cannot be brought up to today’s standards for rail traffic and therefore can be replaced.
Dennis Brasher, director of Jackson County Emergency Medical Services, and Gary Meyers, president and chief executive officer with Schneck Medical Center, shared the state’s concerns about the possible impact the additional trains would have on emergency response times in Seymour and to Interstate 65.
Brasher wrote that the ambulance service and hospital are west of the rail line while most of the city’s population lives on the east side of the track.
To mitigate some of those concerns, the railroads proposed to install a closed-circuit television system to monitor train movements and blocked at-grade crossings in real time. They also agreed to equip and train two individuals for each affected emergency provider to be able to use the monitoring system and to pay for ongoing maintenance of the system.
Brasher said he thinks an overpass would be the best option, especially considering the proposed costs of upgrades to the line.
Seymour city attorney Rodney Farrow also expressed concerns with the traffic delays caused by additional trains traveling through the city.
He wrote that a separate grade crossing — either an overpass or underpass — on the line would alleviate any congestion but that he also recognizes the cost of any grade separation would require what he called “substantial financial contributions.”
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources also expressed concerns about Chestnut Ridge Seep Springs, an acid seep that is a rare wetland area, located within a half-mile of a proposed siding in the Crothersville area.
The four-toed salamander has been documented in that area, and the state is asking that steps be implemented to reduce the impact to that species. The railroads agreed to not work in that area from April 1 through June 1 during the egg-laying and hatching season.
The siding at Crothersville and a second proposed siding near Underwood in Clark County will not be built unless the railroad companies decide they are necessary and rail volume warrants their construction.
The two railroads filed an application for the joint use of the line on June 14, 2013. That application also ensures upgrading of that line to allow for increased train usage.
If approved, the upgrade would see the number of CSX trains traveling between Louisville and Indianapolis increase to 15 per day, and the number of trains operating between Seymour and Louisville would grow to 13.
Now, two trains operate between Indianapolis and Seymour and four trains move daily between the Jeffersonville Yard and Seymour, where they turn east on a CSX line and travel to Cincinnati.
The upgrades also would allow trains to travel at speeds up to 60 mph where possible. The current speed limit is 20 to 25 mph.
The upgrade also would allow for rail cars with a gross weight limit of 286,000 pounds, up from the present 263,000-pound limit, and allow the length of trains being moved by CSX to increase to 7,500 feet from 5,100 feet.
If approved, CSX would have seven years to complete the privately funded project, aimed at easing rail congestion along the CSX corridor between Louisville and Cincinnati.
The Louisville & Indiana, formed by the Anacostia & Pacific Co. in 1994 to buy the line between Louisville and Indianapolis, would benefit from an upgraded line without paying any capital costs, but it would share in the cost of maintaining the line.
CSX is paying $10 million for the easement.
41: Number of rail crossings on the Louisville & Indiana Railroad line in Jackson County
106: Length in miles of the Louisville & Indiana Railroad between Indianapolis and Louisville
$90 million: Proposed upgrade to the Louisville & Indiana mainline
$11.8 million: Annual efficiency savings CSX plans to see as as result of the project