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Rail upgrade could boost jobs but sparks fears

December 21, 2014

A proposal to upgrade more than 100 miles of train tracks between Indianapolis and Kentucky could lead to more jobs, but some fear the increased number of trains could lead to bigger delays and even threaten public safety.

The proposal from Louisville & Indiana Railroad and CSX Transportation calls for CSX to spend up to $100 million to upgrade the tracks between Indianapolis and Louisville to handle larger and faster freight trains.

Currently, L&I trains on the route have weight restrictions of less than 263,000 pounds and are limited to traveling no faster than 25 miles per hour, figures that rail officials say are well below industry standards.

The upgrades, which require federal approval, would allow CSX to share the line with the L&I Railroad. It would also mean trains would be able to travel as fast as 49 miles per hour in certain areas and cars could carry loads closer to 286,000 pounds, John Goldman, president of the Louisville-Indiana railroad, told WISH-TV.

"For us to be on the grid and make a viable connection between Indianapolis and Louisville, that railroad has to be upgraded. And we need to get to a bigger rail where we can run heavier cars as well as faster trains," Goldman said. "What that means is our customers can put more into a rail car, which makes them more marketable and attractive to receivers on the other end."

The improvements would increase the number of trains, bringing as many as 17 a day to Columbus and increases of 13 a day in areas like Indianapolis and Seymour.

Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown said she's concerned that the increased traffic would inconvenience motorists and create safety hazards. Trains passing through the city about 40 miles south of Indianapolis sometimes cause backups on Indiana 46 that can stretch up to two miles and take an hour to clear.

"We've very concerned about it. We're concerned not only from an inconvenience standpoint with the congestion but a public safety standpoint as well," Brown said.

The city is already making plans to build an overpass to help alleviate the projected traffic headaches.

Will Wingfield, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Transportation, says the area presents some "unique design challenges" because the rail line intersects with state road 46 in a flood plain and is in close proximity to two one-way bridges that carry traffic in and out of downtown Columbus.

Jason Hester, the economic development director for Columbus, said of the benefits outweigh the costs.

"From an economic development standpoint, we see it as a good thing," Hester said. "When we are talking about trying to attract a new business to the community, one out of four — if not one out of three — have a preference for rail."

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