Goshen News, Goshen, IN

September 15, 2013

Rail quiet zone may be in Goshen's future

By JOHN KLINE
THE GOSHEN NEWS

GOSHEN — Big changes could be in store for the railroad crossings extending along Goshen’s Ninth Street Corridor south to C.R. 42, though any such changes are currently still in the discussion stages.

During a meeting of the Goshen Redevelopment Commission Tuesday, commission members heard a report from Goshen city Engineer Mary Cripe regarding the possibility of creating a “quiet zone” along the Norfolk Southern Railroad Marion Branch from C.R. 42 to Lincoln Avenue.

According to Cripe, the need for such a quite zone first arose following completion of a Ninth Street Corridor study, where many of the corridor’s residents indicated interest in having a quiet zone installed with the goal of lessening train horn noise.

“That was one of the things they would have liked to have seen in that study,” Cripe said. “However, the price tag was so high on that that it got kind of pushed down further on the list of things to do to improve that residential and industrial corridor along there.”

However, Cripe noted that the need for a quiet zone in the corridor has resurfaced once again with the city’s recent work with the Indiana Department of Transportation on the U.S. 33 project on the North Connector Route.

“We were talking recently about how the bridge going over the railroad would look, and as part of the study we did to reroute the Marion Line around Goshen, there was a study that was completed, and one option was to realign the curve where the Marion Line meets the Chicago Line,” Cripe said. “Currently the trains come through the community at 20 mph, and have to slow down at that curve to 10 mph. So if the tracks could get realigned about 15 to 20 feet to the southwest, the trains could continue at 20 mph through the community.”

Cripe said that when such discussions began, conversations also began to arise regarding the possible closing of the Ninth Street and Washington Street railroad crossings, which in turn led to renewed conversations about a possible quiet zone in the area.

“When you start talking about closings, those are significant in value when you go to do a quiet zone,” Cripe said, “because closing a crossing is worth a lot of points in safety, because it eliminates a conflict point.”

With interest in a possible quiet zone for the area once again in play, Cripe said her department decided to set up a meeting with Norfolk Southern to determine exactly what would need to be done to have a quiet zone created.

“We met with them in January about closing the crossings, and talked about wanting to do a quiet zone,” Cripe said. “Then in March we had a meeting with INDOT and the Federal Railroad Administration where we went to each crossing to determine what would need to be done to improve each crossing in order to complete a quiet zone. So in the end it was kind of a roundabout way of coming back at it.”

According to Cripe, creation of the quiet zone could be done in phases, with the first phase being from College Avenue to Lincoln Avenue, the second phase from College Avenue down to Kercher Road, and the third phase running south of Kercher Road to C.R. 42.

“We’re looking to close three crossings for sure, and possibly a fourth, depending on how our meeting goes with the East Lincoln Crossroads neighborhood on how it would impact their neighborhood,” Cripe said. “We’re looking at closing the Ninth Street and Washington Street crossings, both of which are a requirement because of the need to realign the curve where the Marion Line meets the Chicago Line. Then we’re also looking at closing the Douglas Street crossing, and possibly the Jefferson Street crossing.”

With the possible closings needed for the quiet zone now identified, Cripe said the next step in the process really depends on what eventually happens with the design of the U.S. 33 project.

“We’re not sure of the exact alignment of what’s going to happen there,” Cripe said of the project. “So once that decision’s made, that will trigger the curve realignment and the negotiations between the city and INDOT and Norfolk Southern. Then once that’s done, we’ll submit our quiet zone proposal.”

Safety Improvements

In addition to the possible closings needed for the quiet zone, Cripe noted that the city staff is also looking at the possibility of making safety improvements to at least six additional railroad crossings along the corridor that could in the end help the city’s chances at securing a quiet zone.

As with most projects, however, Cripe said it all comes down to the available funding.

“We’re looking at possibly receiving funds from the Federal Highway Safety Improvement Program, and with that we would be looking at making safety improvements at six railroad crossings,” Cripe said. “By doing those improvements, we would actually be implementing some of the things that would need to be implemented in order to obtain a quiet zone.”

For now, the city has its sights set on safety improvements at the New York Street, Burdick Street, Jackson Street, Plymouth Avenue, Reynolds Street and Purl Street crossings.

“For the ones that we want to do with this first phase of HSIP funds, three of them just have stop signs, and three just have flashing lights, but no bars or gates or anything like that,” Cripe said. “So with this money we’re really focusing on improving safety.”

With the help of the HSIP funding, Cripe said her hope is to install gates at all of the targeted crossings, as well as additional safety measures, such as blinking lights and/or more significant barriers when necessary.

“We’re looking at things like having the constant warning, and having gates that come down, and also mountable median barriers so that people can’t cross and go around the gates,” Cripe said. “The major concern right now for Norfolk is the Purl Street crossing, because when (Goshen High School) gets out, you have all the younger drivers, and we also have lots of people on bicycles and walking to and from the school. So that one is the most expensive, because they’re saying we would need to install quad gates, because with those there’s pretty much no way you can get through those when they’re down.”

As of the most recent preliminary estimate, total cost for the crossing improvements has been quoted at $1.66 million plus design fees, with the federal share of the cost coming to $1.575 million, and local cost settling at $175,000.

“We’ve already been in contact with Norfolk to hire somebody to do the design work, because when you’re dealing with railroads, it’s a specialty,” Cripe said. “So they’ll provide us with an agreement for the design services, then the city enters into an agreement with them. Then once they’re designed, Norfolk will do all the work, then they’ll submit an invoice to INDOT, then INDOT pays them, and then of course the city would have to pay their 10 percent to INDOT.”