From Edinburgh to Greenwood, when a train is passing through the east side of the county, drivers are waiting and waiting.
Drivers have reported idling for 15 minutes or more. The trains have made them late for work, and some worry about what will happen when school is back in session.
Megan Shewmaker’s daily commute has been affected by the delays. She crosses the tracks in Greenwood to get to work each morning. Some days she can leave at 8 a.m. and get to work in plenty of time. Other days, a train makes her late.
“It’s beyond frustrating because I never know when to leave my house in the morning,” Shewmaker said. “My daughter, she will be out at Clark-Pleasant Middle School in the fall, and at this point I’ll have to leave my house an hour early to get her there, even though it’s not even five miles away.”
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The Louisville & Indiana Railroad Co. tracks stretch the county, cutting into Greenwood, Franklin, Whiteland and Edinburgh. The tracks are in the middle of an upgrade, which will allow them to carry more trains that travel at a faster speed. That work is set to be finished in August.
However, for now, the trains are moving at a slower speed while the work is going on. That means drivers are waiting longer — sometimes up to 25 minutes, backing up traffic at crossings and frustrating motorists.
“Part of the reason for the delay is they are doing crossing work as well, so flaggers may be out,” John Goldman, president of Louisville & Indiana Railroad Co., said. “Depending on the work they are doing on the tracks, the trains might have to travel at slower speeds because of the condition of the track.”
Goldman said more trains of varying lengths will travel through the county once the construction is complete. However, because the trains will be able to travel at a higher speed, drivers will not face the same long waits.
But for now, the issue is one frustrating motorists and local officials.
Franklin resident JoAnne Davis has waited more than 20 minutes to get across the tracks.
“It definitely affects my daily commute,” Davis said. “The worst part of these trains is that they don’t have an exact set schedule. I can’t go online somewhere and see what time the train is supposed to be in each town.”
Franklin Mayor Steve Barnett said the city has gotten multiple complaints about the long waits and the current state of the crossings.
The crossings on both Jefferson and Monroe streets are under construction now, and crossing them at too fast a speed could damage vehicles, he said.
Barnett has called the railroad company multiple times pleading for a fix, and said if he could, he would put down blacktop himself to smooth out the crossings. But the city has no control over the railroad, so he has to wait for the railroad company to make the fixes, he said.
“We see it, we know it’s there, we know it’s a problem and we’re trying to fix it,” Barnett said.
The delays have also raised concerns about getting emergency vehicles to accidents, fires or other emergencies as quickly as possible.
“It worries me because, let’s think about it, Whiteland only has one fire department so if there is a big emergency and the train is taking forever, people will be harmed,” Larry Johnston, Whiteland, said. “The only overpass in the county I even know of is all the way in Greenwood, so that isn’t helping people in the southern part of the county.”
The concern is one the town and fire department have discussed, and Whiteland is working with surrounding communities, including Franklin, Greenwood and New Whiteland, to make sure to respond quickly to emergencies, Whiteland town manager Norm Gabehart said.
Franklin is making sure that a fire truck is on both sides of the tracks at all times so they can get to emergencies without the concern of getting across the tracks, Barnett said.
The issue also has prompted local leaders to discuss long-term fixes, including overpasses over the tracks.
Whiteland recently received a $25,000 planning grant from the state for an overpass over the railroad on Paul Hand Boulevard as part of an overall plan to develop that road into an east-west route for traffic, Gabehart said.
An overpass is something Franklin is also considering long-term, but the city would have to find the right place to build one, and would need to get help with the funding, since the project would cost anywhere from $10 million to $15 million, Barnett said.
Safety is also a key concern for local officials.
Together, Franklin, Greenwood, Whiteland and Johnson County received a $4.9 million grant to pay for cross arms, flashing lights and signs at 17 railroad crossings throughout the county, which will become available in 2020. The communities also plan to host a public safety seminar in partnership with the railroad company to discuss how to safely cross the tracks, especially when faster trains come through later this year.
However, not all Johnson County residents are upset with the long delays. Jason Quinn said although the delays are annoying, the construction must be done.
“We live in a society where everything has to work together for the greater good of everyone,” Quinn said. “That train is hauling goods to other people in this country for their good just like the trains hauling goods through their town are for our good.”
Longer and faster trains are set to come to the Louisville & Indiana Railroad Co. tracks.
Where: The tracks run through the east side of Johnson County, in Greenwood, Whiteland, Franklin and Edinburgh.
What’s happening: The tracks are being upgraded to allow for faster and longer trains to pass through. Trains will eventually speed up to xx mph once the upgrades are done.
The concern: While the upgrade work is being done, drivers are waiting longer for trains that are moving slower through construction areas. And officials are worried that crossing tracks that are being worked on could cause damage to vehicles.