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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Both sides of railroad crossing controversy air their views at public hearing

Friday, January 25, 2008

Editor's note: This story is the second in a series examining the proposal to close two railroad crossings in Marshall, the reasons and potential consequences. Also, an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Mike Fowler's trucks use the Lyon Avenue crossing. The earlier version also implied he was complaining about train traffic from another local business. An update posted at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25, corrected those parts of the story. The Marshall Democrat-News regrets the errors.

At Marshall City Council meeting Tuesday evening, Jan. 22, a public hearing to receive comments and concerns from Marshall residents and business owners about closing North Jefferson and Lyon avenues' railroad crossings caused a little bit of tension.

As representatives of different branches of railroad administration inhabited one side of the room, concerned citizens and business owners sat on the other side.

During each person's five minutes of speaking, the room of people remained calm and orderly, but when the question and answer session came at the end of the meeting, Mayor Connie Latimer found it necessary to warn a couple of participants.

Jim Riley, owner of housing properties in the 700 block of North Odell Avenue, started the hearing by noting that if Jefferson's crossing is closed truck traffic from Gencom, Inc. and Center for Human Services will be re-routed to his block.

"That will add additional traffic to the 90 plus houses in that area of town," he said. "I already pick up trash out there everyday."

He said if the crossing is closed he "would like to see the truck route marked through town and enforced."

Rod Massman, MoDOT administrator of railroads, said, "What we try to do is to go to different cities to improve the community by upgrading crossings to the best and most up-to-date technology."

Forty-two percent of crossings across Missouri have some kind of warning system, leaving 58 percent with only crossbucks.

According to Bruce Miller, Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) signal and train inspector, the former FRA administrator set a goal that if 25 percent of the crossings across Missouri could be closed it would help with improving crossings that are detrimental to the state and the safety of its residents.

"We have to cut down to be able to get crossings across the state of Missouri in safer conditions," Massman said.

"Twenty five percent is just a number," Miller said. "We have to have a place to start working from. The improvements will save a life somewhere."

Rick Mooney, KCS, said they are willing to spend money upgrading five crossings with maintenance every year.

A normal light and gate crossing costs between $175,000 and $200,000, Mooney said. KCS is splitting the costs at 80 percent to 20 percent, with them having the lower half.

Charles Schaffer, KCS general signal supervisor, said the railroad pays $5,000 per year to maintain one single crossing.

Larry Morgan, representing Gencom, said Jefferson Avenue is the main entrance to the business.

"We don't want (our drivers) to go through residential areas," he said. Plus, corners in residential areas are not made for tractor-trailers to make turns, which will make it really difficult for drivers if a resident parks near a corner.

"We feel it will devalue our business greatly," Morgan said. "We strongly oppose this."

Gencom also rents to a pallet business, which brings 10 extra tractors and trailers through the area -- twice a day.

Mike Fowler, of Fowler Distributing, said his trucks cross the tracks at various points "numerous times a day."

He reported having problems when trains were stopped to load and forced several crossings to be closed at the same time.

"I have to get across town in a timely fashion," he said, because deliveries must be made on time.

He told the council that numerous crossings between Miami and Odell avenues were closed because of rail cars being loaded on Thursday, Nov. 29; Friday, Dec. 7; Friday, Dec. 28; and Wednesday, Jan. 9.

Fowler asked if there was a time limit that a train could sit on a track blocking traffic without consequences.

Massman said the state's model ordinance says five minutes sitting stationary with nothing happening but if they are loading cars, they are considered doing something.

John Fletcher, Central Missouri AGRIService LLC. general manager, said he was concerned with the impact of the Lyon's crossing closing on his business.

"We acknowledge that we are part of the problem due to our grain loading practices," he said. "I do not object to the closing out right. I do object to the following: As we understand the situation, the purpose of closing the crossing is so that the railroad will qualify for state and federal money to improve their privately owned property and make their operation on their property safer to the public.

"As we understand it the railroad gets public funds to improve their property, but in order to receive these funds, they have to reduce the number of grade crossings in the vicinity," he said.

Fletcher said that if the crossing is closed it becomes a dead end to the company's dump traffic pattern. The cost to correct this dead end would be somewhere in the neighborhood of a $1 million.

"That expenditure would result in improved facilities to what we have now, and we are willing to share in that cost," Fletcher said. "But we are unwilling to absorb that cost alone. Much like the railroad is unwilling to absorb the cost of protecting the public at their grade crossings alone. We do not categorically object to the crossing that we use everyday being closed, but we object to it being (closed) only so that the railroad will get public funds to improve their property."

Schaffer said the old system is a "dumb system." The warning system is trigger off of distance from the crossing and it doesn't matter if the train is stationary.

Mooney said the new system trips allows a train to be 60 feet past the gates, and if it is not moving for over 20 seconds, to deactivate the warning system off.

"Any type of movement will reactivate it," he said.

Brian Berlin, also representing Central Missouri AGRIService, told the council that the company has been in town a long time.

The company loads 456 rail cars a year and "we could do twice as many if the railroad could get them here," Berlin said. They also take grain from Saline County farmers and create jobs for the community.

"We strongly support safety," Berlin said. "We are following the rules now by wearing vests, closing the street and contacting the dispatcher that the cars are being loaded."

Miller said that he had a "good" hour and a half meeting with the staff at Central Missouri AGRIServices and the company is working hard to comply with their end of the deal to maintain safety for the motoring public.

Mike Mills, concerned citizen, said, "The closings to either crossings doesn't bother me one bit," because it doesn't affect him in any form.

"However, those streets were there and they have been there for quite some time," he said. "The people own those streets and for the city to close these streets to make it affordable for them to fix a few, I don't think it's the proper thing for us to do."

Schaffer said the main goal behind closing two crossings is because of circuitry problems.

Latimer clarified this problem Thursday afternoon, Jan. 24, since Schaffer was interrupted numerous times when trying to explain.

"For every crossing there is, each additional crossing requires more circuitry," Latimer said that was her understanding. "So the second crossing has to have the circuit to function plus one to operate and be timed together with the first crossing. Consequently, when you get to the third one, it has to have circuitry to match the first two."

Railroad specialists said they will have another meeting with the Mayor and a committee to revisit the plan. They were very happy with the amount of feedback they received.

Contact Rachel Harper at marshallcity@socket.net

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