A plan to double or even triple the number of trains coming through Seymour daily will effectively shut down the city, local leaders said.

But a recent report issued by the federal agency studying the proposed high-speed rail improvement project paints a different picture.

That assessment, released Dec. 31 by the national Surface Transportation Board’s

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Office of Environmental Analysis, shows little impact to communities along the north-south path of the Louisville & Indiana Railroad, including Seymour, Columbus, Greenwood and Franklin.

Mayors of those four cities plan to join forces to voice

their concerns with the

project and potentially to appeal the findings of the environmental report.

A news conference was scheduled for today but was canceled Thursday afternoon because someone involved could not attend. That meeting is expected to be rescheduled.

Seymour Mayor Craig Luedeman said he has no illusions they can stop the $70 million to $90 million project proposed by the Louisville & Indiana Railroad and CSX Transportation Inc., and he doesn’t want to. He said he just wants to see a viable solution to getting traffic through Seymour when the city is literally bisected by the railroad.

He also wants to know who will pay for that solution, which most likely will end up being an overpass south of U.S. 50 near Silgan Plastics on North County Road 850E. Such a project could carry a price tag of up to $30 million, he said.

The railroad company says it’s not responsible

for studying or paying

for upgrades requested by local governments.

“It’s not up to the railroads to make that determination,” said John Goldman, president of the Louisville & Indiana Railroad. “It’s something that’s up to the local communities, local governments and state to make a case.”

The Surface Transportation Board has yet to

make a final decision

about the project, and spokesman Dennis Watson said there is no set schedule for that decision.

Columbus is looking at a $40 million bridge project near State Road 46 to alleviate traffic congestion that would be caused by the project, Luedeman added.

Seymour already has a railroad overpass (Burkart Boulevard) and one underpass (Community Drive), both providing routes around the east-to-west CSX Transportation line. There are no alternative routes to get traffic around the north-to-south L&I rail line.

“(An overpass) is the only long-term solution if we see the train traffic they are projecting,” Luedeman said. “We couldn’t do one over (U.S.) 50 near the railroad because it would take out our downtown.”

Emergency calls

Louisville & Indiana

and CSX proposed the

joint rail upgrade project

in 2013 to improve and strengthen the 106-mile

L&I line between Jeffersonville and Indianapolis to accommodate not only more trains but heavier and faster ones. The project

is being billed as a response to the projected growth in U.S. rail volume and is expected to help create jobs, both in construction and train operations.

Work could take up

to seven years to complete if the project gets

final approval from

the Surface Transportation Board. In time, the number of daily freight trains coming through Seymour could jump from five

to 17, the railroad companies have said.

“The railroad is going to expand,” Luedeman said Wednesday. “That’s pretty evident from the steps that have been taken.”

One of the biggest concerns Luedeman and others in Seymour have is the increased time it will take for emergency services, including police, ambulance and fire departments, to respond to a call.

In its study, the federal board outlined a mitigation measure to help Seymour address the issue. That measure requires the railroad companies to provide closed-circuit television systems with video cameras so that train movements and blocked crossings can be monitored in real time. The systems would be used by Schneck Medical Center, Jackson County Emergency Medical Services and the Seymour Fire Department.

The equipment, installation and training on how to operate the systems would be funded by L&I and CSX, the report stated.

Such equipment would be helpful and welcome but still would not solve the city’s traffic problem created by the trains, Luedeman said.

“The monitoring equipment won’t really help,”

he said. “If I have a

heart attack, I want

them to be able to get me to the hospital in time to save my life. I don’t want them to be stuck in traffic because of a train.”

Delays possible

Since the same rail

line travels to Columbus, Luedeman said routes to both Schneck and

Columbus Regional Health would be affected.

Dennis Brasher, executive director of Jackson County EMS, also contends the increase in trains will have an adverse impact on their response times to wrecks on Interstate 65, transporting patients from the east side of the city to Schneck or transferring patients to hospitals north or south

of Seymour.

The ambulance service is trying to circumvent the problem by establishing an ambulance station east of the railroad tracks at the former Indiana State Police post. Brasher said he is optimistic that deal will

go through.

“It’s not going to help in every situation we have, but it will allow us to respond in a more timely fashion to those calls that come from east of the tracks,” he said. And that is where most calls originate, he added.

He doesn’t see how

the Surface Transportation Board can say there

will be little impact on

the community.

“I don’t see how that’s possible,” he said. “We have problems now with ambulances being delayed because of trains.”

He also doesn’t think

the monitoring system will help much.

Although he supports the growth and need for the railroad project for economic reasons, Luedeman said, the logistics do not work in the city’s favor.

“I’m not against it,”

he said. “I’m against the chaos it will cause in our communities because of these trains.”

With 30,000 vehicles traveling back and forth on U.S. 50 daily, more and longer trains have the potential of “shutting the city down,” Luedeman said.

“If it stops traffic for more than two minutes, it’s going to start backing up all the way toward the high school on the west side and toward the interstate on the east side,” he said.

Asking for help

Without an alternative route to take traffic over the railroad tracks, there’s no way to keep the project from impacting people who live and work in Seymour, he said.

In 2013, Luedeman sent a letter to the Surface Transportation Board supporting the project.

“Our community has several industries that rely on rail service,” he wrote. “We believe that this investment will support their needs and allow them to source products efficiently.”

At that time, Luedeman said the project would

help make Seymour

more attractive to businesses and industries.

“We look forward to the industrial development benefits of an improved rail corridor that will allow us to compete for new prospects,” he wrote. “We understand that this investment will upgrade the integrity of the rail line and allow for faster and safe transit of trains through

our community.”

Luedeman still supports the project from an economic development point of view, but he and other leaders want more financial support from the railroads and state and federal governments in developing more avenues for motorists to get through the cities.

“That’s why we are coming together, to ask for that help,” he said.

Pull Quote

“If I have a heart attack, I want them to be able to get me to the hospital in time to save my life. I don’t want them to be stuck in traffic because of a train.”

Seymour Mayor Craig Luedeman, on a potential increase in train traffic through the city

Author photo
January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.