If you live, work or drive near railroad tracks in Johnson County, then the trains traveling past you every day are likely hauling nearly anything, such as automobiles, beer, petroleum gas or coal, depending on the day.
They also might roll by carrying munitions to or from the Navy base at Crane or hauling Cummins diesel engines from Columbus to Indianapolis.
Three railroad companies send trains daily through the countyon two sets of tracks that run nearly parallel.
The Louisville & Indiana tracks run east of U.S. 31, from Edinburgh to Indianapolis. The Indiana Rail Road Co. tracks run on the western side of the county, west of State Road 135, between Morgantown and Indianapolis.
As many as 12 trains per day pass through Johnson County carrying plastics, coal and automobiles.
Their routes pass neighborhoods, businesses and schools; and while accidents with vehicles at crossings are a top concern for residents, they aren’t the only worry.
Police and firefighters also have to prepare for a train to come off the tracks and spill whatever it’s carrying onto nearby yards or farmland.
Few of the trains that pass through Johnson County carry hazardous materials, and none carries chemicals such as chlorine that would be toxic if inhaled, Indiana Rail Road Co. spokesman Eric Powell said.
Indiana Rail Road trains carry petroleum products, such as gas, for Marathon, and those materials could be considered dangerous because they’re flammable, he said.
For that reason, local police and fire departments are trained in what to do if a train derails and how to deal with the materials on board. If a train were to derail, the company’s dispatcher would immediately call the local police and fire departments, Powell said. The last Indiana Rail Road Co. derailment in Johnson County was years ago, he said.
The Louisville & Indiana Railroad sends three or four trains per day across the county. They haul grain, cement, steel, lumber, fertilizer, copper and appliances, such as refrigerators and stoves for General Electric. The tracks go through Edinburgh, Franklin, Whiteland, Greenwood and Southport. The railroad also serves Camp Atterbury and carries tanks and trucks to and from the military installation.
But the tracks get more traffic than that because of a partnership between the company and CSX Transportation Inc. of Jacksonville, Fla. CSX trains make four trips per day across the county on those tracks, carrying automobiles from Louisville to Indianapolis. The total could increase to 13 or more CSX trains per day if the Surface Transportation Board, which is the federal regulator of railroads, allows the companies to partner to upgrade the tracks.
The Indiana Rail Road tracks aren’t as busy. The company sends three or four trains per day on its busiest days through Johnson County, passing through Bargersville and pulling 50 to 80 cars each, but some hauling coal could have as many as 100 cars.
“The goal with railroads is to move as much as possible with as few trains as possible,” Powell said.
The company’s trains also carry materials for ammunition to and from Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center. Those are secured loads, and the company doesn’t publicize when and where they’re going partially so people living or working near the tracks don’t worry unnecessarily about the traveling ammunition parts, he said.
The company replaced much of its track last year, and the rail line is as safe and up-to-date as any international company’s, he said. The small company moves freight from around the world, including from Canada, South Korea, China and Vietnam, and also sends it abroad. Trains haul metal to be made into aluminum cans in Robinson, Ill., and a Miller beer product going to Canada. Some of the plastics the trains carry get turned into Tide detergent bottles and Ice Mountain water bottles, Powell said.
Some of the materials come from more nearby companies. For example, the Indiana Rail Road picks up coal from mines southwest of Johnson County near Dugger and carries it to Indianapolis Power & Light.
Many of the products are just passing through the county, such as the grains and malt going to Jim Beam in Louisville to be made into whiskey. Indiana Rail Road trains also carry a very fine stone material, similar to lava rock, to lay on baseball fields in central Indiana, including the Indianapolis Indians’ Victory Field and Little League baseball diamonds.