Seymour officials met with a representative from the Louisville and Indianapolis railroad company Monday to hash out some solutions for the local traffic problems being created by trains rolling through the city.
One of the chief complaints from city leaders, residents and those traveling through Seymour is that trains too often stop on the tracks, blocking traffic and dividing the city for extended periods of time.
They also are concerned with the poor condition of the rail crossing at Second Street, which is so jarring motorists have to come to a near stop in order to cross without damaging their vehicles.
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Mayor Craig Luedeman, along with city council members Matt Nicholson, Shawn Malone, Brian D’Arco, state representative Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, and John Goldman of L&I discussed some of the efforts that are in the works to help alleviate the congestion and other problems.
The L&I has 106 miles of track running from Louisville to Indianapolis which is shared with CSX Transportation.
The companies are working to upgrade the route by investing more than $100 million to replace the tracks and increasing the frequency and speed of trains traveling them.
Many people in Seymour have been caught by northbound trains that are switching onto the eastbound tracks, which are owned by CSX.
Currently, train engineers have to completely stop the train to manually throw the switch on each end of the tracks because they are owned by two different railroad companies.
Goldman said there are a couple of solutions being worked on, including making the two companies’ equipment able to communicate with each other and making it so engineers can flip the switches remotely instead of stopping to flip them manually.
A difference in rail rating is also causing more trains to turn east in Seymour. Rail that is currently being replaced from Rockford to Indianapolis isn’t yet rated for trains as heavy or fast as the rail from Louisville to Rockford or Seymour to Cincinnati.
Trains travel around 35 miles through Scottsburg and close to 50 miles through Crothersville, but must slow down to about 25 mph through Seymour because of the difference in tracks to the north of the city.
As these projects are completed, more trains should start moving north again at a faster rate of speed instead of turning east, meaning they won’t block traffic in Seymour as long, Goldman said.
A new crossing at Second Street also is being planned, but because of how bad the current crossing is, Goldman has requested it be patched for the time being.
Nicholson said the problem is not something city officials have ignored.
“If you believe we as city officials haven’t been asking for this crossing to be patched or replaced then you are mistaken,” he said.
And of course no conversation about the railroad would be complete without mentioning the need for an overpass.
That project also is in the works as part of the south extension of Burkart Boulevard.
The first phase of the project will take the road from U.S. 50 on the east side of the city south through farm fields to South O’Brien Street near Silgan Plastics.
The overpass will cross the rail line southeast of Silgan and just north of East County Road 340N.
Construction won’t begin until at least 2020 and it will take two years to build Phase I, which has an estimated price tag of between $12 and $15 million.
Nicholson said he has heard a lot of complaints and falsehoods from the public when it comes to the city’s train situation, even that city officials are paid by the railroad companies.
There is little the city can do because the railroads are regulated by the Federal Rail Administration, he added.
“Railroads operate on their own property. We as a city can’t control how many trains they send per day, much the same way they can’t control how many cars we have on our streets,” Nicholson said.
Current transportation laws state trains can’t block an intersection with a stopped train for more than 10 minutes.
Nicholson said he has been timing the trains that stop him and the 10-minute rule typically holds true.
“Some will take 9½ minutes, but very few sit still more than 10 minutes,” he said. “Because they have to stop twice to make the north to east turn it seems longer.”
Malone said he understands and agrees with citizens’ frustrations and anger about the current situation, but believes it’s going to get better in the next 12 months.
“I’m very sure the current problems are being worked on and a year from now most of the issues will be worked out,” he said. “Two years from now, we will hopefully be completely relieved of all stopped trains because intersections will be smoother and trains will be running faster.”
Nicholson said some communities are creating ordinances that impose fines on the railroad companies for various reasons, but he is not in favor of seeing Seymour take that route.
“While I am all for a quick solution, those same communities are facing huge legal fees fighting for fines that don’t follow the federal guidelines,” he said.
Seymour City Council has agreed to close up to four rail crossings, out of 14 in the city, starting with the one at St. Louis Avenue and Indianapolis Avenue. In comparison, Columbus has about half the number of crossings that there are in Seymour.
Nicholson said it’s more convenient to have a crossing every block, but it’s also a safety risk.
“While I am not completely on board with closing crossings, I can understand why (the railroad companies) are asking for them,” he said.
But Nicholson said he will study each crossing individually before voting to close them.
“It depends on the crossing and the work put into showing it as a viable option to be closed,” he said.
As much as people hate being delayed by a train, Malone said the trains are not a bad thing, as the increase in train traffic is a sign of a strengthening economy.
“We are a town built by and around trains,” Malone said. “We are lucky to be the crossroads of America and trains will forever be a part of our community. We must be patient as the tracks are being updated and the advancements in technology are being implemented.
“If the trains are busy, the world is busy,” he added. “We must surely be thankful for that.”