Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
Washington won’t close railroad crossings, for now
WASHINGTON — Members of the Washington City Council voted against plans to close any railroad crossings in town as the city braces for a proposed merger between Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern railroads, which is expected to drastically increase train traffic, and potentially train speeds, through town.
City officials said they worried about making closure decisions too hastily. State guidance does not typically allow a closed crossing to reopen unless two more are shut down in its place, a reality that would make a crossing closure effectively irreversible.
“I think it’s a huge decision, and I just don’t think we’re ready to make that decision,” Council Member Elaine Moore said.
Public safety officials said they agreed with the decision. Police Chief Jim Lester said closures would negatively impact public safety, even if they drove down the city’s railroad risk index.
For one thing, he said closures could disrupt some areas’ police response times from the County Sheriff’s Office or city police station, on opposite sides of town. For another, he said diversions from closed crossings would create problems elsewhere.
“Quite frankly, public safety wasn’t involved in this study at all,” Lester said. “It’s about the increase of some of the traffic in some of the other areas. If, for example, you close F, and the KC Hall has activities almost every weekend … we are going to have more traffic in a residential area.”
Some said they had safety concerns about the rising train traffic either way. CP Director of State Government Affairs Larry Lloyd attended the meeting Tuesday night, and said trains may eventually see their speed limit in town increased from 40 mph to 60.
“If your question is, do we intend, long-term, ‘Do we want to increase the speed,’ the answer is, ‘Yes,’” he said. “But as anything, there has to be a business case behind it … we would do (capital investments) first, you would see the additional traffic come online, if it comes online as we think it would, at some point in the near future, there would be the business case for increasing speeds so we have better fluidity in the network.”
Two council members — Bethany Glinsmann and Illa Earnest — voted against closures, but said they wanted to "continue to revisit“ the matter moving forward.
While the decision to leave crossings open doesn’t preclude the declaration of a quiet zone for trains running through town, it would make doing so more expensive. The estimated cost of infrastructure needed to make a quiet zone in Washington is $2.95 million, according to a consultant’s report in January. The city could lower that number by closing crossings, which would reduce the amount of infrastructure needed, and bring in $200,000 per closure from a railroad incentive agreement.
One offer from Canadian Pacific would have effectively lowered the net price of a quiet zone to under $400,000, but closed a high-traffic crossing on Iowa Avenue and two other locations.
Tuesday’s vote came after a survey on quiet zones in the city drew 229 responses, the results of which were released to The Union with identifying information removed. The majority of respondents to that survey — by a tally of 125 to 104 — said they favored some form of a quiet zone. Consensus on whether a quiet zone should take effect 24-hours a day or only at night was split, with 65 voting for the former and 60 for the latter.
“A quiet zone is absolutely necessary in our opinion,” wrote one respondent in favor of a 24-hour quiet zone, who said they lived in the 600 block of North Fourth Avenue. “The current noise level IS NOT conducive to sleeping, or to spending time outdoors. We don't feel we should have to be subjected to this noise as it is currently, let alone with added trains.”
That view is not shared by all, however. Many survey responders opposing a quiet zone said they lived close to the rails and had adapted to the noise.
“I live a block away from the tracks (and) the noise doesn't bother me,” said another response, urging against any form of quiet zone. “This is a public safety issue. The horns are the only way to warn those who aren't paying attention that a train is coming.”