CSX Transportation is seeking to close the railroad crossing on County Road 8 in Washington Township, and the true purpose of the request is a debatable subject between the railroad and Morrow County Commissioners.
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio will be holding two hearings on behalf of CSX Transportation’s petition to close the crossing. The first meeting will be held July 15, 2014 at 3 p.m. at 72 W. High Street and the second is scheduled for the same day at 6 p.m. at the Galion City Hall Chambers, 301 Harding Way East, Galion. A notice published June 25 by the PUCO states ‘any person interested in providing testimony should be prepared to indicate why there is or is not a demonstrable need for the crossing.’
The issue of closing the crossing has been brewing for some time. CSX cites safety reasons, low traffic volume and redundancy of crossings as a reason to close the B-NW Road railroad grade crossing. A constituent complaint was filed in 2011 on the CR 8 crossing and the Ohio Rail Commission reviewed the complaint. The commission, along with CSX and the PUCO, met with Morrow County Engineer Randy Bush in November of 2011 to discuss the possibility of upgrading the warning devices at the crossing. At that meeting, the crossing was identified for possible closure to eliminate “redundant grade crossings.”
To help persuade Morrow County officials to consider approving closure of the crossing, CSX and the ORDC sent a letter in April of 2012 offering the county $5,000 of CSX funds - which could be used by the township for any purpose - and $15,000 ($7,500 from CSX and $7,500 from ORDC) which could be used for highway safety improvements approved by the Federal Highway Administration. They also advised if the offer were not accepted, the ORDC would most likely initiate flashing lights and a roadway gates improvement project at the crossing.
The Morrow County Commissioners declined the funds.
In a letter from CSX attorneys dated October 25, 2013, it was noted that the offer ‘was rejected by Morrow County Commissioners.’ The letter also stated the CR 8 crossing “inherently creates a hazardous situation,” identifying the crossing as “the second most hazardous crossing in Morrow County” although there has been no documented accidents at that crossing. The letter cited the crossing at Biddle Road as an alternative route already equipped with lights and gates, and CSX offered to modify the warning devices on an adjacent road, Township Road 32 (Keiffer Road).
“There’s never been an accident there and, if you’re paying attention, there’s not a visibility problem there either,” contends Tom Whiston. “I don’t have a problem with doing things if there’s a safety need or a legitimate need, but CSX has not come and talked to us - they merely communicate through their attorneys, which I don’t think is a proper way to do things.”
Whiston said, according to the Ohio Revised Code, you cannot close a crossing for material benefit to the railroad. Local residents - and commissioners - know the crossing is sometimes blocked for hours and days at a time while CSX uses the side track as a ‘small switching yard’ to accommodate mainline east and west traffic.
“If they’re using that crossing closing to have a place to station their cars, that’s not a basis to close a crossing,” he stated.
“They said in their letter (to commissioners) that trains come through there at 40 - 50 mph, and I’ll guarantee you that’s impossible,” said Tom Harden, “because that’s within a mile of the Galion City limits, and they aren’t going to allow them to go through Galion at 40 or 50 mph. In fact, a lot of times they’re barely moving.”
Morrow County Commissioners were advised last December that CSX Transportation Inc. was filing a petition for closure of the railroad crossing located on the Crawford/Morrow Line Road. In their petition for closure received March 7, 2014 by the commissioners, CSX states the County Road 8 crossing has estimated traffic of 116 - 131 vehicles per day. They believe, based on the nature and location of the crossing, closing it would not have any significant impact on the operations of the local fire departments and EMS services.
Commissioner Dick Miller disagrees.
“The crossing services two of everything,” he said in a letter to the PUCO Attorney Examiner Bryce McKenney in April. “Two school districts, fire departments, emergency squads as well as other enterprises in the area. CSX, like other railroads, conduct business as if they hold fee simple title to right of way while they demonstrate only prescriptive service right.”
Northmor Supt. Dr. Brent Winand submitted a letter in March to commissioners stating the school district’s opposition to the proposed closing. If the crossing is closed, Winand estimates the added length of time to bus routes would be 29 hours per year. This is because the closing would result in two ‘dead ends’ for each bus route and would require potentially dangerous turnarounds.
“One of the important things we want to note is, from a standpoint of transportation and commerce, I’m a big train supporter,” said Whiston. “The cost of transportation for trains is probably half to a fourth of what it is for truck traffic. I think we’re seeing a resurgence of train traffic, which is what I think is leading to this. We’re supportive of what they do. But from the point of impeding traffic permanently to facilitate their purpose under the ‘guise’ of safety, I have a hard time swallowing that.”
The Morrow County Commissioners will be attending the July 15 hearing at 3 p.m. at 72 W. High Street and encourage concerned residents to attend and be heard on the matter.
“They asked us our opinions and we stated it’s our job to make decisions for the county,” Whiston stated, “and I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the county to close that crossing. They don’t live here and use that crossing - we do.”
A letter from Columbus Attorney R. Leland Evans advised that a combined offer for closure by the Ohio Rail Development Commission (ORDC) and CSX Transportation that had previously been extended to the commissioners would remain open until the Petition for Closure was filed with PUCO in early January.