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Railroad plans rattle officials; safety noise concerns

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A train from the Louisville & Indiana Railroad makes travels through Franklin, In near the Franklin College campus. Mike Wolanin / Daily Journal
A train from the Louisville & Indiana Railroad makes travels through Franklin, In near the Franklin College campus. Mike Wolanin / Daily Journal

A train from the Louisville & Indiana Railroad approaches the crossing at 350S in Amity, In. Mike Wolanin / Daily Journal
A train from the Louisville & Indiana Railroad approaches the crossing at 350S in Amity, In. Mike Wolanin / Daily Journal

More trains, traveling at faster speeds, could be coming to railroad crossings that pass by schools, neighborhoods and businesses from Greenwood to Edinburgh.

Local officials are concerned about residents’ safety at railroad crossings throughout the county and more noise from trains in neighborhoods if a proposed partnership and upgrade to the Louisville & Indiana Railroad’s north-south rail line is approved.

As part of the upgrade, local officials have asked for certain work to be done in the county, including new warning signals and walls that would help block the noise from trains. Railroad officials said they will consider the requests.

The Louisville & Indiana Railroad Co., which has a line that runs through the county just east of U.S. 31, expects to hear by mid-December if it has federal approval to work with a larger railroad company and overhaul its track system. The project would replace rail lines and increase the number of trains that use the tracks from two or three trains per day in Johnson County to about 15 and bump up the maximum train speed from 25 mph to a maximum speed of 49 mph.

Officials in the county have asked the railroad companies to put up cross arms and more warning lights at railroad crossings, ensure that trees and fence lines don’t block motorists’ views near tracks and to consider sound barriers for neighborhoods next to the line.

The Louisville & Indiana Railroad, based in Jeffersonville, needs federal approval to partner with Jacksonville, Fla.-based CSX Transportation to replace all of its rail and a bridge and redo every railroad crossing along its 106-mile line from Indianapolis to Louisville.

The companies don’t need local approvals to partner, overhaul the track system, add more trains or to increase train speeds, said Peter Gilbertson, chairman of the Indiana railroad. Through about mid-September, residents and officials can write letters expressing concerns or requests to the Surface Transportation Board, which is the federal agency that regulates railroads.

The federal board studies changes to business competition and whether building projects impact the environment by damaging endangered species’ habitats or wetlands.

The Louisville & Indiana Railroad will ask for input and consider community needs through one-on-one visits with mayors and other local officials as the project plans are finalized, Gilbertson said.

“It just makes sense to do. We’re in the communities. We can’t move our railroad,” he said. “It’s crucial that we have good relationships in the communities. Our customers are their local businesses.”

Designs for the construction project, which could cost up to $90 million, will include upgrading every railway crossing, Gilbertson said. The companies don’t know yet what those upgrades will include because an engineer hasn’t designed them yet, but they will try to address communities’ concerns, he said.

Locally, those requests include upgrades to safety and warning devices at railroad crossings, walls to block out noise from trains and helping motorists see better at crossings.

The railroad tracks run past businesses and neighborhoods in Greenwood. Isom Elementary School also neighbors a crossing. Five of the seven railroad crossings in the city are in residential areas, city engineer Mark Richards said.

The safety and warning signals at those crossings range from simple stop signs to overhead lights, lights on poles and warning bells, he said.

In a letter, Richards asked the companies for cross arms at every crossing, more warning lights and bells and for the city to be included in the planning of train schedules.

Richards also requested sound barriers near residential areas or for the railroad companies to consider train schedules that would reduce disturbing neighborhoods near the tracks.

Sound barriers could be a consideration, though Gilbertson said he has never seen them near railroad tracks.

“You’re going to have increases in noise from the locomotives because they’re traveling at a faster speed. Crossing signal bells will be going off more frequently,” Richards said.

The new rail will be continuously welded rail instead of the existing, bolted-together steel rails, so the noise trains make now will be lessened after the upgrades, Gilbertson said. Trains hit the current joints and make metal-on-metal pounding sounds as they drive, he said.

The city also would like to be involved in scheduling the trains because traffic could back up during rush hours, particularly at the crossings at Main Street, Worthsville Road and Stop 18 Road, Richards said.

The railroad crosses eight county roads that aren’t in cities or towns and those crossings only have stop signs, pavement markings and cross buck signs, or the railroad signs with an X on them, said Luke Mastin, director of the Johnson County Highway Department.

“If a vehicle was not to obey the stop signs, they would have sight issues along those fence rows,” Mastin said.

He requested in a letter that the railroad companies consider problems motorists have seeing down the tracks at rural crossings and improve visibility at those crossings, such as by cutting out trees that block views or adding cross arms and light and bell warning signals.

The construction project is slated to take about seven years if it gets approved, and no timeline has been set for when and where the work will be done on the line or if local requests will be granted, Gilbertson said.

CSX Transportation will not start running its trains on the line going through Johnson County until the upgrades are completed.

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