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Railroad: Track repairs mean smoother, quieter trains

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A major railroad maintenance project will take place in western Johnson County this year, and residents should expect quieter trains when it’s completed.

The Indiana Railroad Co. has been working on a $65 million, five-year maintenance project of its tracks, which pass through Bargersville and western

Johnson County. Work will start as soon as this spring on the section between Bloomington and Indianapolis, company spokesman Eric Powell said.

That stretch cuts through the Center Grove area, Bargersville and rural Hensley Township before winding through Morgantown. The tracks run roughly parallel to State Road 135.

The company expects to spend about $3 million on improvements to the track in Johnson County this year, Powell said.

East-west roads that cross the railroad tracks will be closed at times, but no long-term road closures are expected, he said.

Workers will start in Bloomington and proceed north. The work in the Bargersville area is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Indiana Railroad Co. is doing the first major renovation project to steel tracks that were installed along the line in the mid-1990s, Powell said. The infrastructure needs to be kept up to handle a growing business, which has had a 5 to 10 percent increase in freight over the past few years.

He said the privately-owned company is paying the full $65 million cost of renovating 500 miles of train tracks, without receiving any tax dollars for the work.

“It’s a matter of maintaining the property,” he said. “When the company bought the tracks in 1986, they were in extremely poor condition. As the rail business has increased over the years, the company’s founder has decided not to pocket that money and instead reinvest it in the property.”

Currently, the tracks in Johnson County are in relatively good shape, except for the joints that get beaten down under the heavy steel wheels of the railroad cars, Powell said. Those joints crop up every 39 feet or every quarter-mile, depending on the type of tracks.

New track will be installed in some places, but most of the work will involving cutting off the worn joints, sliding the sections forward and welding them together, Powell said.

Welders will forge the existing lengths of track into a continuous ribbon of rail that will be safer, more reliable and quieter, Powell said.

“For the citizens, it will be quieter without the joints,” he said. “That lessens the noise and makes it a quieter, smoother ride.”

The company also won’t have to do as much routine maintenance to fix damaged joints once the sections are welded together, Powell said.

The project should ensure the railroad company can serve a growing number of customers who have been switching to rail to ship goods because it can be cheaper, more efficient and more environmentally friendly, Powell said.

Business has increased more than 12-fold since the company was founded in 1986, and its tracks in Indiana and Illinois now move more than 800,000 truckloads of freight per year.

The railroad’s main focus once had been to ship coal from the Evansville area to an Indianapolis Power & Light plant, but it’s been handling more and more freight trains that haul a variety of goods, Powell said.

For instance, the company recently reached an agreement to work with another railroad company to ship Asian-made products from a Canadian port to central Indiana.

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