Railways vs.

Love or hate trains, they’re big in our lives
dtrinko@limanews.com 419-993-2150

CRAIG J. OROSZ • The Lima News

A stopped train blocks northbound traffic at the crossing on Cable Road in Lima.

Busy tracks signal strong local economy
dtrinko@limanews.com 419-993-2150

Who owns the railroad lines that we cross?
Indiana & Ohio CSX Transportation Norfolk Southern Chicago & Fort Wayne R.J. Corman

Living four houses down from the CSX railroad, Leipsic Village Administrator Kevin Lammon knows all about the inconveniences train traffic can cause. But the three railroad companies in the village don’t create a nightmare there. They create a dream scenario. “It can be an inconvenience sometimes, but from a jobs standpoint, it’s what brought three of our large employers here,” Lammon said. “It’s why they came here. Our ability to use those three railroads to either ship products in or out is what’s keeping Leipsic alive and well.” The village continues to develop what it calls the “Golden Triangle,” an area where the three rails can connect. It already has two of the rail systems connected. It even owns a short stretch of railroad. The Ohio Rail Development Commission jumped at the chance to help build a railroad spur when the Poet ethanol plant opened near the village. “That was a classic example of bringing together See ECONOMICS • A11

Findlay Ottawa

Van Wert Delphos Lima Celina Wapakoneta Bellefontaine Sidney
Source: Public Utilities Comission of Ohio NATE WARNECKE • The Lima News


LIMA — This part of Ohio is railroad country. What that means depends on your perspective. For Dewey Wallace, a 50year-old student at the University of Northwestern Ohio, it means the risk of running late for class when a train on the Chicago and Fort Wayne & Eastern Railroad line blocks Cable Road. If there’s no train there, it could mean a bouncy trip over those same tracks for the lifelong Lima resident. “I’m looking at the track right now, and it’s blocked as usual,” Wallace said Tuesday. “If you could go across it, you might lose a tire or a small Volkswagen in one of those holes.” For Mike Harvey, it means Lima’s in the heart of the nation’s economy. He thinks the 30 trains a day going in and out of Lima on five railroad lines are worth their inconvenience to drivers. He also thinks about Lima’s proud tradition in railroading, including the production at the famed Lima Locomotive Works. “I think the influence of trains on our lives is railroads really built America,” said Harvey, a train enthusiast from St. Marys. “… Without those trains, we’re not going to eat. You’re not going to have goods on your table, at Wally World or anyplace else.” The region’s love-hate relationship with railroads See TRAIN • A11

two railroads, the county government, the local village government, a big ethanol company and a couple other relevant agencies,” said Stuart Nicholson, the public information officer for the Ohio Rail Development Commission. “Everybody had a piece of it. And the general agreement is this would not have happened if we hadn’t brought everyone together in a classic public-private partnership.” St. Marys also plays nice with the railroad company going through the city, R.J. Corman. “We have a great relationship,” said Thomas Hitchcock, director of public service and safety. “It’s always been that way the entire time we’ve been here.” Nicholson said most railroads just want to be good corporate citizens. “There’s this image of railroads as being these big, seemingly uncaring entities. It’s actually quite the opposite,” he said. “It’s a business like any other business in a community. Their factory just happens to be linear as opposed to occupying a city block.” Increased rail traffic is a welcome sight in Leipsic, Lammon said. “Most towns say, ‘Gee, the train traffic is horrible. How do you deal with it?’ We know it’s going to be here. It’s a byproduct of having growth and more jobs. We’ll take that. People seem willing to accept that here.” You can comment on this story at www.limaohio.com.

TRAIN • from A1 ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
sparked again recently when a locomotive problem blocked two Lima-area intersections for three hours March 9. Some residents can’t wait for a new Vine Street underpass in Lima or a new signaling system in Delphos to alleviate some of the snarl. It’s indicative of the region’s relationship with railroads. With 36 freight railroad companies operating on 5,307 miles of rail, Ohio ranks fourth in the country in total miles, according to the Association of American Railroads. With 770 public railroad crossings in the nine-county region, local residents spend their share of time waiting and thinking about those trains. “This actually is a good problem in many aspects, as it’s a sign of a growing economy and also underscores Lima’s, Allen County’s and Northwest Ohio’s continued importance in interstate transportation,” Columbus Grove resident and train enthusiast Eric Davis said. “However, this provides no solace when running late to an appointment or, even more extreme, when trying to reach a local hospital.”

County Allen Auglaize Hancock Hardin Logan Mercer Putnam Shelby Van Wert State At-grade 145 94 133 71 54 51 88 50 84 5,879 Underpasses 2 0 6 1 3 0 0 10 0 234 Overpasses 54 15 25 30 27 1 14 48 18 3,889 Total 201 109 164 102 84 52 102 108 102 10,002

since the locomotive was inoperable.

Seeing improvements
Elstro said Lima has seen major improvements in recent years. He recalled frequent complaints with the CSX and Norfolk Southern crossings on Market Street and the Indiana & Ohio crossing on Bellefontaine Avenue. Working through the PUCO with the companies, the railroads resolved many of the issues. “Once they did a complete rebuild, the crossing is extremely serviceable for years to come,” Elstro said. Lima continues to work on long-term solutions, including a potential underpass around the tracks near Lima Memorial. Still, things are better than they once were, Coon said. “We have issued some (summons) in the past, especially over near Lima Memorial,” Coon said. “Those crossings, everything was so tight. We used to get a lot of complaints there. They’ve rectified a lot of problems there, and we’ve had no complaints in a long time.” Plans are already under way for a $14 million underpass on East Vine Street on Lima’s south side, thanks in part to stimulus money. That project should break ground in May and finish in fall 2011. The Bellefontaine Avenue underpass project wasn’t eligible for stimulus funds because it was already in the works in the federal funding system, Lima officials said. That project, estimated at $21 million when completed, continues to progress slowly. Lima hopes to get a $5.7 million earmark from Sen. George Voinovich to fund right-of-way acquisition for the project.

Source: Public Utilities Commission of Ohio

Rough patch
A resident begged Kevin Lammon, the village administrator in Leipsic, last weekend for immediate action on one of the three railroad lines in the Putnam County village. “He said, ‘Hey, one of the railroads has some big potholes. You should go down and fix them,’ ” Lammon recalled. “The reality is I can’t go onto their property. It’s no different than anyone else’s property. I can’t go fix things in your house just because I think it needs fixed.” The railroads own the property alongside their tracks, and it’s their responsibility to fix any rough spots. It’s a responsibility they take seriously, said Rudy Husband, of Norfolk Southern Railroad, which has 2,300 route miles in Ohio. “In an ideal world, all of our crossings would be perfectly smooth all of the time,” Husband said. “I know that’s not the case. When we do receive a complaint, we do investigate it. If action is necessary, we will do it.” Delphos Safety-Services Director Greg Berquist said working out the differences can be frustrating and time-consuming, especially when dealing with companies headquartered outside Ohio. “Historically, we’ve bumped noses because it’s a matter of they claim they have no money, and we don’t have the responsibility or authority,” he said. Residents have multiple options of whom to call about rough crossings. They can call the railroad owning the property directly, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio at 866-814-7245 or the local municipality to act on their behalf. PUCO acts as a mediator if people don’t think the railroads act

properly on repairs. Its involvement is strikingly small in the region, though, as it investigated just 11 rough crossings in Allen, Auglaize, Hardin, Putnam and Van Wert counties in 2009, including six in Allen County, said Shana Eiselstein, of the PUCO. “The PUCO will try to mediate the situation and get the railroad to repair it, and 95 percent of the time the PUCO is successful in this effort,” Eiselstein said. “When we are not, the local highway authority can use the Ohio Revised Code to take action if they choose to do so.” CSX spokesman Robert Sullivan said the company takes its relationship with local communities seriously. “When we get complaints about rough crossings, we work to respond as quickly as we can,” he said. “I recognize people would want it to be a little quicker, but we make a real effort to address those issues as best as we can.” Howard Elstro, director of public works for Lima, said residents have to be patient when working with railroad repairs. “Typically, it takes the railroad months, if not years, to plan effectively for upgrades that will last a long duration of time,” Elstro said. Wallace, the UNOH student. worked his way through the system to address the rough Cable Road crossing last year. The railroad fixed the problem, although another hard Ohio winter brought the problem back. “I thought I’d really accomplished something,” he said. “My voice was heard. They smoothed it out some. It’s still iffy at best, but it’s better.”

Waiting game
Knowing where you’re going only helps so much in a region criss-crossed by railroad lines. Jim Everett, the chief deputy at the Allen County Sheriff’s Office, reminds deputies to have a backup route in mind in case a train blocks an intersection. “There’s not a whole lot you can do if you’re going to be on the road that much,” Everett said. “You have to know where the underpasses and overpasses are. You have to be ready to change plans depending on what you’re seeing.” Ohio law lets railroads stop their trains and block public roads for five minutes at a time.

If a railroad doesn’t move the train, local law enforcement can issue a summons that could lead to a $1,000 fine. In Allen County, it’s a rarely used fine, with neither the Sheriff’s Office nor the Lima Police Departmentissuing a summons in 2008 or 2009. “The railroads, of course, will tell you they own the land, they were here before many of (the) streets were put in place, and their economic wellbeing is based on the ability to run trains up and down tracks,” Elstro said. Ohio is one of 13 states using the five-minute standard, including Michigan and Kentucky, according to a report by the Federal Railroad Administration. Indiana and West Virginia each permit blocked roads for 10 minutes. Nineteen states have no state regulations about railroads blocking roads. “We’re never looking to block an intersection,” CSX’s Sullivan said. “We want our trains to be moving. That’s how we serve customers. That’s how we help the economy. We want to keep moving every chance we can.” There’s some disagreement in law enforcement about what “stopped” really means. The vague, 300-word, five-paragraph law leaves things open to interpretation. “Whatever judge hears it is how it’s going to be applied,” Everett said. Sgt. Patrick Coon, of the Lima Police Department, said he hears complaints about railroad switching leading to blocked traffic on North Cole Street and North Cable Road in Lima, which isn’t really stopped by the LPD’s understanding of the law. “Once they move forward and stop, the time starts again,” Coon said. “They can continue without a time limit on that.” Everett said the Sheriff’s Office interprets the law to mean the intersection must re-open to traffic every five minutes. “The way the law reads, they’re not supposed to block the road for over five minutes,” he said. “If it’s over five, they’re supposed to clear the track for not less than three minutes to let people cross.” The law offers exceptions for things out of the railroad’s control, such as problems with equipment or the rail itself. The March 9 three-hour blockage didn’t lead to a summons or fine,

Crossbars going up
One stopped train in Delphos can bring the entire city to a standstill. The city has an antiquated railroad crossing system dating back to the 1950s. While its cast-iron control boxes might stir nostalgia, it has a fatal flaw: When one train comes through town, the gates go down at all five rail crossings. “You know what you have to do to get around a train here,” Berquist said. “You know which is the worst crossing. You can go to another crossing. It’s a practical thing the community learned to deal with.” A year from now, that creativity won’t be necessary. Delphos received $1 million in stimulus funding to install new lights, gates and controllers at the five rail crossings. “We’re really looking forward to that project. It’s way overdue,” Berquist said. “We were fortunate enough to be in the right spot when the money came down from the federal government.” You can comment on this story at www.limaohio.com.

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