Work to improve 14 rail crossings along the Louisville & Indiana Railroad in Seymour will begin this summer.
That work is related to a $100 million upgrade of the 106½-mile rail line that runs between Louisville and Indianapolis. The U.S. Surface Transportation Board approved the project in April after a lengthy study of how it would affect communities along its path.
The L&I railroad and CSX, which also uses the line, want the upgrades so more trains that are both heavier and longer can use it. The number of trains traveling through Seymour is expected to go from three to five a day to as many as 15.
Many of the cities along the route, including Seymour, Columbus, Franklin and Greenwood, have expressed concerns about noise, traffic congestion and public safety issues the project may cause.
After the federal decision approving the project, however, Seymour decided to try working with the railroad companies and the state to address some of the safety issues and enhance crossings as much as possible.
“We’re not going to fight it at all,” Mayor Craig Luedeman said Thursday. “We’ve learned you’re not going to get anywhere if you fight.”
Luedeman said the city has taken that stance to try to get some engineering work accomplished and look at improving crossings in the city. Many of the crossings do not have crossing arms.
“They’ve promised to help upgrade all our crossings,” Luedeman said.
The railroad companies are not just going to hand the city money for upgrades, though, so the state has to be involved, he added.
“A group from the state will have to oversee the work,” Luedeman said.
The upgrades are something the city cannot afford on its own, he added.
“To actually get a crossing upgraded with gates, lights, the whole nine yards, you’re looking at about $250,000 up to $500,000 per crossing,” he said. “So it can get very, very costly.”
The state is responsible for the Tipton Street (U.S. 50) crossing and the Sixth Street (State Road 11) crossing.
“The others are ours,” he said.
Luedeman said the city is exploring the possibility of building an overpass over the rail line as part of the extension of Burkart Boulevard around the south side of the city.
“That’s about a $30 million project, and we’re working on that with the state,” he said. “We have some preliminary ideas in with the state trying to get an idea if they will help or they won’t help and trying to get council to look at maybe doing an engineering study right now, too.”
Getting some design work going would be a good start, Luedeman said.
An overpass is a project that’s at least five years down the road, he added.
The overpass also would help alleviate some of the concerns about how people with medical emergencies on the east side of the train tracks can receive attention quickly. Of ambulance runs in the city, 63 percent come from that side of the tracks, said Dennis Brasher, executive director of Jackson County Emergency Medical Services.
Officials with that county agency hope to ease some of those concerns too by establishing an ambulance station in the garage at the former state police post.
“At least we’re trying to be proactive,” he said.
Brasher said that project is awaiting final approval of the lease by state and county officials.