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Train speeds to increase in city

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

GREENCASTLE -- The speed limit for trains passing through the city on the CSX railroad will soon be changing from 10 to 25 mph.

While no date for the increase has been set, it could be as soon as two weeks.

Prior to Tuesday's meeting of the Greencastle City Council, officials from the railroad informed city officials and citizens of the change.

"We're going to be running a speed increase through Greencastle," said Ken Gilsdorf, community affairs and safety representative for CSX. "It makes our system more efficient when we can run our trains at a more consistent speed."

The change was initially proposed when the Altra ethanol plant was built in Cloverdale a few years ago. Although the ethanol plant has since closed, the track still serves Buzzi Unicem, and the railroad has chosen to go forward with the change.

Gilsdorf said the public meeting in Greencastle was step 15 of a 17-step process in doing a speed increase.

"This isn't an easy process to do speed increases," said Gilsdorf. "There are usually 10 or 12 people involved in the 17-step speed increase process."

CSX train master John Welch said Buzzi is his company's biggest customer on this particular line, so streamlining the ability to serve the plant is important.

Buzzi plant manager John Kass was also present at the meeting, confirming the claim by CSX that his plant would be increasing its volume in the coming months and years.

"What's happening now and what we look for in the coming year is that 75 percent of our tonnage will go out by rail," Kass said. "We need the railroad to service us. Our business has changed, and we don't have the local customers in Indiana we used to have."

Kass also indicated that his company had closed its plant in Chicago, increasing the business the Greencastle facility will see.

"We honestly believe that we will be moving 800,000 tons a year out by rail," he said.

Kass said he didn't know what the speed increase would do; he only knew his company needed to ship its cement.

The concern of the officials and citizens at the meeting, though, was less about business and more about community safety.

There are 10 railroad crossings in the city, several of which have neither signals nor stop signs.

One of the initial proposals included closing the Jacobs Street crossing. However, residents of the area had serious problems with the proposal.

Resident Steve Newnum, speaking for a number of the residents, said they weren't worried about the added speed or noise, they just wanted to continue to have access to their street.

"We're not against you guys increasing the speed," he said. "We're not against Buzzi. All we want is our street left alone. It does not bother us. We're so used to it. We've lived by it about all our lives.

"We expect the traffic," he continued. "It's not a problem. We are responsible citizens."

In response, Gilsdorf said there would be no requirement to close the Jacobs Street crossing, but this had been one possible recommendation. It remains up to the city to close any crossings.

He also said no crossing is unsafe provided motorists obey the law and remain cautious.

"If motorists continue to do what they're supposed to do, there will not be a problem," he said.

Council members and Mayor Sue Murray also expressed their displeasure over the move, going so far as to pass a resolution opposing it once the regular meeting was in session.

However, the city understands it does not have the jurisdiction to fight the speed increase. The city's concern is with the safety of the crossings.

While CSX officials have indicated that signals and whistles have been adjusted to still give motorists and pedestrians a 20-second warning, there are problems with signage at some of the crossings.

The city would like to have more time to make necessary changes, such as adding stop signs to all non-signaled crossings. The possibility of a two-week lead time makes it impossible for this to happen.

According to state law, the fastest the stop signs could be put up is two months from now.

"Would you consider giving us two months to put up stop signs?" asked Council President Adam Cohen.

While Gilsdorf said he could make no promises, he said he would let those making the decision know of the city's concerns.

Council members also expressed displeasure with the process of the speed increase, citing Gilsdorf's statement that the meeting is step 15 out of 17. Had the meeting been earlier, the city may have had time to make the proper adjustments, officials said.

One final area of concern is the pedestrian crossing that leads from the DePauw campus out to the university's nature center.

Gilsdorf said there would be new signs to put up at this location to remind pedestrians of the crossing.

At the meeting's end, Mayor Murray made one final plea to CSX for their cooperation.

"Our concern has been safety from the very beginning of this," she said. "We have some issues that have to be dealt with to make this crossing safe. We will hopefully have the time to do that.

"We can't change the speed, but we can certainly ask for your help in making this safe," she concluded.

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I would like to know what part of my comments offends someone or something? I bet Even this one will be deleted

-- Posted by Sand mann on Wed, Aug 12, 2009, at 9:41 AM

the train ed police.lol

-- Posted by Sand mann on Wed, Aug 12, 2009, at 1:12 PM

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