(LINTON) - Indiana Rail Road Company has proposed to close two Linton rail crossings as a safety concern, the Linton City Council learned Monday night.
Indiana Rail Road Company Attorney Tom Densford addressed the council about the future closing of rail crossings at 2nd Street SW and 4th Street SW.
Nick Schneider of the Greene County Daily World reports that Densford reminded the council and the mayor that an agreement between the railroad and the city was started about 10 years ago and it has yet to be finalized. The agreement pertains to the access road behind the city street department barn.
The 2004 agreement transfers a strip of ground about 15 feet wide on the southside of the railroad tracks providing access between South Main Street and A Street. Another agreement was discussed about a strip of ground about the same width on the north side of the rail tracks to accommodate some utilities.
Densford said at the time the railroad had requested that two crossings be closed on 6th Street and 8th Street and that has been done. But the property was never conveyed from the railroad to the city, even though the city went ahead and paved that area and it looks like it has been used pretty regularly.
Last fall, Mayor Wilkes initiated some additional discussions with the railroad company about extending that strip of ground all the way down to 12th Street.
Densford explained, the initial plans are to improve the road to that electrical substation and just maintain the other 15 feet for connectivity in case you have any other project development that you want to run all the way to 12th Street. A survey done and the property identified.
The railroad also has requested closing two other crossings - at 4th Street and 2nd Street SW.
Densford said the railroad company is under what he called 'a fair amount' of pressure from INDOT (The Indiana Department of Transportation) and federal regulatory authorities to close as many crossings in Indiana as possible for safety reasons.
"ndiana rates among the lowest in the country for crossing safety. The state rates among the highest in the nation in railway crossing fatalities. So when the railroad has an opportunity to try and close vehicular crossings they want to pursue that, Densford explained.
The railroad spokesman said INDOT has made some money available to assist with these closings through a grant program, which would put money in the general fund's of cities who participate.
Densford said three of these grants have previously been done in the area and closed several crossings near the Hiawatha Mine near Jasonville and two recently in Elnora, located in Daviess County.
He said the closing of the two Linton crossings would generate grant funds of about $30,000 -- payable from INDOT to the city once the crossings are closed.
The city was presented a preliminary contract several weeks ago to proceed with the closings, but it will be further discussed. There is a public notice process and a means to receive citizen input about the project before the crossings can be closed, he said.
The council members were presented with copies of the contact, the proposal agreement to vacate the road, as well as aerial photos of the designated area.
Council president Jathan Wright asked if the railroad company has plans to increase the current 40 miles per hour speed of trains going through the city, after these two crossings are closed.
Densford says the speed will not increase.
Councilman Tony Richards voiced concern for the people who live near the tracks and their lack of access to other parts of town, once the closures are made.
Densford said there are no plans to close both 2nd Street crossings, only the one located on the north side.
Fire Chief Brad Sparks also expressed concern about response time during an emergency situation once those two closures are made.
"If we're trying to drive a fire truck down the side roads, it's not going to happen," Sparks commented. "If you cut off at 4th Street that's really not a problem. But 2nd Street is a pretty highly traveled road. I think it's going to really affect some response times for police, fire and ambulance. It's something to consider."
Densford added, "There is no change in our operations. What we are responding to is pressure or incentives from INDOT and the federal regulatory agencies to close as many crossings as we can and that is why they are making some money available...closing these crossing really is a safety issue and it does have an effect on the number of accidents."
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