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Rail repair delay puts plans off track

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A major railroad upgrade that will likely bring more but faster trains through cities and towns in Johnson County won’t get started until next year at the earliest.

That project could bring construction to multiple railroad crossings in 2015 on the line that mostly runs parallel to U.S. 31 on the east side of the highway. For now, the only construction that is definitely going to happen in 2015 is a railroad crossing repair at Jefferson Street in Franklin.

The railroad company is waiting on an approval from the federal Surface Transportation Board on a project to upgrade its rails for a higher weight capacity, which could also lead to new railroad crossing work starting next year. Louisville & Indiana Railroad president John Goldman expects the project to get approved by the end of October, which means construction would start next year.

Originally the project was expected to start this year, but delays with the federal approval have bumped it back.

The rail upgrade will mean more trains and heavier trains could use the line, although they’d also move faster through cities and towns. The rail line runs through central Johnson County with notable crossings on County Line Road and Main Street in Greenwood, Whiteland Road near Whiteland Community High School, Jefferson Street in Franklin and State Road 252 in Edinburgh.

Currently the maximum weight the line can handle is 263,000 pounds, but the new rails would be able to handle 286,000-pound cars, which are more common in railroad shipping, Goldman said. The weight upgrade will allow more companies to run trains on the line, he said.

“You can run faster, and you can run heavier cars,” Goldman said. “We have had potential new customers look at this route and say ‘Wow, it’s awesome. I can be in Louisville or Indianapolis and be there in no time and I can set up outside the cities.”

The Louisville & Indiana project would be a second round of railroad upgrades in Johnson County. The Indiana Rail Road Co. has been upgrading multiple crossings on its line on the west side of the county through the Center Grove area and Bargersville this year. That line turns west after leaving the county and runs to Bloomington and Terre Haute.

The Louisville & Indiana project would require the company to pull up decades-old rails and replace them with new, stronger rails. That will eventually mean replacing rails at multiple railroad crossings in Johnson County, requiring closures. Construction workers also could build new, smoother crossings while the road is shut for the rail upgrade.

Since the rail project hasn’t been approved by the Surface Transportation Board yet, the only confirmed project for next year is a crossing repair at Jefferson Street in Franklin.

The Jefferson Street crossing was on a list of possible maintenance projects for this year, but other crossings were a higher priority to fix, Goldman said. Since it didn’t get done this year, the project has moved to the top of the list for 2015, Goldman said.

Louisville & Indiana informed the city earlier this month that the Jefferson Street crossing will be repaired in 2015, but information about when and whether the street will be closed during the upgrade hasn’t been discussed yet, city engineer Travis Underhill said.

The railroad company hasn’t announced any crossing repairs in Greenwood for next year, city community development services director Mark Richards said. The city is rebuilding the crossing at Worthsville Road as part of the ongoing widening project and the old crossing gates are being moved to Stop 18 Road, which currently doesn’t have any signals, he said.

Whether the railroad will repair more crossings in Johnson County next year hasn’t been decided yet. Railroad staff review all of the crossings in the fall to generate a list of maintenance projects and that hasn’t occurred yet, Goldman said.

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