Railroad upgrade gets federal OK

A plan that allows more and faster trains to travel along a local railroad line has been approved.

The Federal Surface Transportation Board approved a plan to upgrade the Louisville & Indiana Railroad line, which runs through Johnson County east of U.S. 31, through Greenwood, Whiteland, Franklin and Edinburgh. The approval allows freight operator CSX Transportation to jointly use the 106.5-mile rail line between Indianapolis and Louisville and make improvements to the line.

The improvements will allow more and heavier trains traveling at faster speeds, which was a concern to mayors of Greenwood, Franklin, Columbus and Seymour. The group of mayors wrote to the federal board, asking it to require the railroad line to pay for upgrades to crossings and added safety features, such as flashing lights and stop arms at crossings, noise barriers in residential areas and ways to prevent trains from frequently blocking busy crossings.

But the board did not require the railroad company to make those changes as part of the approval, according to the order issued by the board on Friday.

Instead, the board required railroad companies to have more communication with local officials, including providing reports, which Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers was hopeful would lead to more discussions and allow him to continue pushing for crossing improvements.

“That doesn’t mean I am going to stop my fight to get crossing arms in, and I would hope the other mayors are going to continue to band with me for what they are asking for,” Myers said.

The approval allows CSX to spend $70 million to $90 million on track upgrades, including replacing a bridge, modernizing the train dispatching system and increasing weight restrictions along the line. The company expects the upgrades would be completed over the next seven years, the order said.

After the upgrades are done, trains will be able to travel up to 60 mph, from a maximum of 25 mph now, and will add 10 to 15 trains per day, for a total of 17 running between Indianapolis and Jeffersonville per day, the order said.

The railroad company had said the project was needed to increase efficiency of both CSX and L&I, reducing service time by more than two hours per day, with an annual savings of about $11.8 million. The upgrade would benefit the public and enhance competition with more efficient and cost-saving operations, the board said in its order.

The federal board did require the railroad company to address some issues that could impact traffic and the environment, but not what local mayors had asked for.

According to the approval, the federal board did not require the crossing upgrades the mayors requested but did require that the railroad company meet with each mayor, or a representative, to discuss a mitigation plan and to provide each mayor along the railroad line with semiannual reports on compliance with mitigation measures.

In feedback about the project, local officials raised concerns about noise, traffic backups at crossings, safety for vehicles and pedestrians at crossings — especially ones without cross arms or flashing lights — and crossings being blocked for emergency vehicles.

In response, the Office of Environmental Analysis, which prepares reports for the surface transportation board, recommended mitigation measures, including notifying emergency services when trains wouldn’t clear a crossing within a certain period of time, instituting a crossing mitigation plan to address safety impacts of blocked crossings, working with local communities to identify potential improvements and putting up signs warning of the added trains.

Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness, Myers and the mayors of Columbus and Seymour pushed for more improvements, including added safety devices at crossings, quiet zones and ways to address traffic delays. The mayors wrote a letter to the federal office and met with officials in a teleconference, and Myers also traveled to Washington to meet with Indiana members of the House and Senate to ask for their help.

Officials from the Office of Environmental Analysis told the mayors that the recommended mitigation measures would help with the impact, the federal board typically doesn’t require the changes they were requesting, and crossing upgrades are almost always paid for by the owner of the road and grant money, the order said.

McGuinness had been hopeful the federal board could require the train companies to discuss crossing improvements with cities and towns or at least agree to negotiate speed limits and possible noise reduction when trains travel through town. But that was not a part of the order issued this week.

The federal board said the mitigation measures recommended were reasonable and feasible and addressed concerns raised, including for emergency responses, noise and traffic delays, the order said. Some impacts can’t fully be addressed, such as noise from a train’s horn, and there may still be delays at crossings, the order said.

And the proposed upgrades to the rail line will enhance the infrastructure, improving performance and routing flexibility and allowing trains in the Midwest to move more quickly, more cost-effectively, more safely and more reliably, the order said.

The approval is effective immediately, the order said.

At a glance

Here is a look at what the approval issued by a federal board on Friday allows:

Allows CSX Transportation to spend between $70 million and $90 million on track upgrades, including replacing a bridge, modernizing the train dispatching system and increasing weight restrictions along the line.

After the upgrades are done, trains will be able to:

  • Travel up to 60 mph, from a maximum of 25 mph now
  • Increase weight limits, allowing for heavier trains
  • Add 10 to 15 trains per day, for a total of 17 running between Indianapolis and Jeffersonville per day.
Author photo
Annie Goeller is managing editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at agoeller@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2718.