Daily Journal staff report
After being turned down by the railroad company and a federal transportation board, Greenwood’s mayor isn’t backing off his mission to make railroad crossings here and across the nation safer.
The faster trains passing through his community daily, along with a recent fatal accident in Edinburgh, are a constant reminder of what’s at stake, Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers said.
In recent months, Myers has spoken with mayors around the country about safety concerns at railroad crossings, presented to a national conference about the topic and met with four members of Congress to ask them to do something. By March, he plans to get the signatures of at least 100 mayors around the country with the same concerns, bring them to lawmakers in Washington D.C., and ask for a change in the law.
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“It scares me,” Myers said. “Someone’s already been killed, and it’s probably going to happen again.”
Trains are now traveling through Johnson County at twice the speed they previously were allowed after upgrades were made along the Louisville and Indiana Railroad line that crosses the east side of the county to allow CSX to run more and faster trains. That has raised safety concerns with local officials from Greenwood to Edinburgh. An Edinburgh woman was killed in a collision with a train in November. And in December, a train hit a vehicle in Greenwood, causing minor injuries.
Multiple crossings across the county are marked with flashing lights or just stop signs, and that has been a key concern for local officials, who say the crossings should have cross arms that stop traffic when a train is approaching and flashing lights to warn motorists. Local leaders asked for those signals to be required when the railroad line was upgraded, but were turned down by the Federal Surface Transportation Board when it approved the railroad’s request to run more and faster trains.
The upgrades are pricey — $250,000 or more per crossing — and the law requires local governments to pay the full cost, and the railroad company pays nothing.
That is what Myers wants to see change, especially if it is the railroad company’s actions that are making the crossings more of a hazard for drivers, he said.
Johnson County, Franklin, Greenwood and Whiteland won a $4.3 million federal grant that will pay for 90 percent of the cost to add cross arms and flashing lights to 17 railroad crossings. But that money isn’t available until 2020, so in the meantime, all Greenwood can do is wait, Myers said.
“Right now, that is the fastest option unless we want to pay 100 percent, and we don’t have the money to pay that,” he said.
Edinburgh wasn’t eligible for the federal grant because the community is not included in the area covered by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization. The town recently received a $10,000 grant from the state to paint safety markings on the road in front of each crossing, town manager Wade Watson said.
The town had previously had those markings on some crossings, but when they were repaved after the upgrades to the railroad line were done, they were covered up and the railroad company was not required to repaint them, he said. Officials plan to continue looking for other grants and funding options, he said.
“Anything we can do to help alert motorists to the hazards they are approaching at the railroad track is extremely beneficial,” he said.
Myers recently met with U.S. Sen. Todd Young, U.S. Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita and staff members for U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth to point out how the laws could be changed to require the railroad company to pay for upgrades. He suggested that lawmakers make adding warning signals a requirement of the approval by the Federal Surface Transportation Board when approving upgrades to the lines or replace one word in the law that would move the responsibility for those upgrades from local governments to the railroads, he said.
Myers wants to be clear that he isn’t against the railroads, especially since them moving freight gets more traffic off the roads. But they are making money off the upgrades, while local communities spend money to protect residents, he said.
If Greenwood approved a development that would add more traffic to a road, then the city is responsible for adding a stoplight, and he views this the same way, he said.
He pointed to the recent accidents, including the fatal crash, and told lawmakers this was exactly what he was concerned about when the upgrades to the tracks were first considered, and now the worst has already happened. Myers thinks he got their attention, and they agreed it was a problem, he said.
But he wants to be clear this isn’t just a Greenwood issue, he said. He has been talking with mayors from around the nation, who are facing similar problems, he said.
Now, he is working to put together a petition with the signatures of at least 100 other mayors from around the country, asking lawmakers to change the law, he said.
He will be taking that petition with him to Washington D.C. when he returns in March for a conference, and said he will be back at lawmakers’ doors again.
“I will not drop this,” Myers said.
Here is a look at the railroad crossings in the county and their warning signals:
Naomi Street: flashing lights
West Center Cross Street: cross arms, flashing lights
East Main Cross Street: flashing lights
Thompson Street: flashing lights
Perry Street: flashing lights
East County Line Road: flashing lights
West County Road 900N: stop sign
Earlywood Drive: stop signs
Paul Hand Boulevard: stop signs
Commerce Drive: cross arms, flashing lights
Lynhurst Street/Graham Road: flashing lights
Cincinnati Street: flashing lights
Adams Street: flashing lights
King Street: flashing lights
Jefferson Street: cross arms, flashing lights
Monroe Street: flashing lights
State Street: flashing lights
County Line Road: cross arms, flashing lights
Meridian Street: flashing lights
Academy Street: signs
Broadway Street: flashing lights
Main Street: cross arms, flashing lights
Stop 18 Road: cross arms, flashing lights
Pushville Road: stop signs
County Road 150S: signs
County Road 250S: signs
County Road 300S: signs
County Road 350S: signs
County Road 400S: signs
County Road 650S: signs
County Road 700E: signs
Tracy Road: stop signs
Whiteland Road/East Main Street: flashing lights
Walnut Street: flashing lights