Even though a plan has been approved to run more and faster trains through Johnson County, local officials are still trying to find a way to make their crossings safer.
They aren’t giving up on getting cross arms and flashing lights added at crossings in Greenwood, Franklin and other local communities, and they want help paying for them.
Of the nine railroad crossings in Franklin, only two have crossing arms, but the rest have either flashing lights or stop signs. Greenwood, Whiteland and Johnson County also have intersections with not enough safety features to warn residents of a train approaching. Instead of having only stop signs or flashing lights to signal that a railroad crossing is ahead, local officials want more automatic crossing arms and bells at each crossing.
Both Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness and Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers also requested noise barriers to be installed between residential areas and the railroad tracks going through city limits.
Myers wants to meet with other city and Johnson County officials as early as next week to create a master safety wish list for Johnson County. This would list the major needs of every city affected by CSX Corp. trains and the Louisville & Indiana Railroad Line.
Although local officials have all expressed the need for more safety at railroad crossings, the group has never met to formulate a joint plan, officials said.
By working together, Johnson County communities could be eligible for grant money or additional funding, McGuinness said.
Johnson County officials will work together to create their own plan, but other surrounding cities such as Seymour and Columbus have discussed the need for safer railroad crossings with Johnson County officials in the past. For now, the master list of safety concerns will include only Johnson County, since Seymour and Columbus work through a different regional group to secure road funding, Myers said.
“We’ll meet collectively with all the city engineers and county planners to see what we do want through Johnson County, so if we all apply through INDOT together, we think we’ll have a greater chance to make these upgrades,” Myers said.
Safety priorities for local cities, towns and counties will be turned in to the railroad companies by Aug. 1, McGuinness said. That way, the railroad companies will know the safety concerns of each community, he said. Officials also plan to turn in an overall plan to cover the safety concerns of Johnson County, officials said.
Local officials want these safer signals in place before CSX Corp. upgrades the current railroad tracks and allows 10 to 15 more trains to cross the tracks on a daily basis. In addition to the larger number of trains passing through Johnson County, the trains can go up to 49 mph instead of the current 15 to 20 mph limit.
When drivers approach railroad crossings with just a stop sign and a railroad crossing sign, they tend to make a rolling stop, which could inch them onto the track, Mayor Joe McGuinness said. Once faster trains start coming through Johnson County, residents may not have much warning that a train is approaching, and officials worry more accidents could happen.
For example, in New Whiteland, a concrete company is located near the railroad crossing on Tracy Road. When large 20-ton trucks are coming and going from the concrete business, they might not be able to stop in time when a fast train comes through, Whiteland town manager Norm Gabehart said. And with only stop signs at the railroad crossing, trucks might not see the trains approaching in time to slow down, he said.
The cost for adding safety features is high, and railroad companies are not required to pay for the upgrades. Improving crossing signals typically come from local funds but can cost up to $150,000 per signal upgrade. Officials think some of the cost should be covered by the railroad companies.
Just last week, McGuinness met with officials from CSX Corp. and Louisville & Indiana Railroad. The railroad companies were required by law to reach out to local officials about safety concerns and to tell them about updates happening to the railroad crossings. The railroad companies will be making upgrades, including repaving near the tracks, to get ready for faster, more frequent trains. But unfortunately, those upgrades do not include installing better crossing signals, McGuinness said.
Greenwood, Franklin, Whiteland and Johnson County officials have determined which intersections need the most safety upgrades.
Here’s a look at what railroad crossings are at the top of the list for local officials:
- Earlywood Drive
- Jefferson Street
- Graham Road, Lynhurst Drive and Johnson Avenue
- Stop 18 Road
- Main Street
- Meridian Street
- State Road 44
- Tracy Road, in New Whiteland
- County Road 400 North