Columbus will assess the potential effects that an increase in the number of trains rolling through the city would have on local traffic patterns.

The Columbus Redevelopment Commission has approved a contract with American Structurepoint, an Indianapolis engineering firm, to review Louisville & Indiana Railroad’s plans to increase the number of trains it runs through Columbus each day and to help the city develop solutions to counter the effects of that increase. The commission acted on the contract during a special meeting Wednesday.

Louisville & Indiana plans to increase its traffic through Columbus — from two or three trains a day to as many as 15 a day — later this year, said John Dorenbusch, redevelopment commission vice president and a member of the Railroad Project Community Committee. CSX Transportation plans to invest up to $100 million to complete the project.

The current railroad traffic that crosses State Road 46 causes backups all the way to the stores and restaurants located along Merchants Mile just inside Interstate 65, Dorenbusch said, and the rail company’s plans to increase its presence in Columbus will only exacerbate the problem.

Structurepoint’s task will be to help the city develop a plan to prevent the traffic backups from getting worse.

Work on the railroad has already begun south of Seymour, said Heather Pope, the city’s redevelopment director.

The Railroad Project Community Committee, which consists of city and county officials and local residents, issued a Request for Proposals on March 14 to find a consultant for the railroad project.

The committee received four responses and a subcommittee selected Structurepoint after interviewing two of the respondents. The subcommittee consisted of Dorenbusch; Pope; planning director Jeff Bergman; Dave Hayward, executive director of public works/city engineer; and George Dutro, a citizen committee member.

Structurepoint estimated that its work would cost $75,000 to $125,000. The scope of the study it will complete has not been defined yet, which is why the firm could not provide a more exact cost estimate, Dutro said. It will likely take a few weeks to define that scope, he said.

However, there are a few issues the committee already knows Structurepoint will have to look into. For example, Louisville & Indiana’s plan includes a provision to increase the size of rail sidings — which allow trains to pass each other — in Brook, Indiana, said Frank Jerome, the city council president who serves as a member of the committee.

Upon further investigation, the committee learned that Brook actually refers to Corn Brook, an unincorporated community in Bartholomew County located across the street from the Columbus rail yard, said Mayor Jim Lienhoop, who attended Wednesday’s meeting.

While the rail company has said that trains coming through Columbus will likely move through at 17 to 20 miles per hour, there is concern that the trains will actually move slower through the city as they slow down to enter the siding, or speed up to exit it, Lienhoop said.

Because the committee was not initially aware that Brook referred to the Columbus rail yard, its members have no concept of what the addition of the larger siding could mean for local traffic, Jerome said. Reviewing the plan for the rail yard will be part of Structurepoint’s work.

Russ Polling, a current member of the Columbus Plan Commission and former redevelopment commissioner, attended Wednesday’s special meeting and raised concerns about the city’s ability to pay for the project beyond the initial $125,000.

Polling said the Indiana Department of Transportation had reviewed the railroad issue for the previous redevelopment commission under the administration of former Mayor Kristen Brown. INDOT found that the only viable option would be to move the tracks slightly west and to construct an overpass for motorists to use to avoid the trains, he said. That process was estimated to cost about $40 million — a cost the city cannot afford, Polling said.

Dutro acknowledged that $125,000 is a large amount to pay for the study alone and also said that the city would likely have to solicit the assistance of the state and federal governments to pay for any additional costs related to the actual implementation of a plan to counter the increased train traffic.

However, Dutro also said that the severity of the issue made the high cost of the project worth paying.

Redevelopment commissioners chose to set the contract with Structurepoint at a maximum of $125,000.

Because Dorenbusch is the only member of the redevelopment commission who sits on the railroad committee, it is not considered a subcommittee of the commission, Dutro said. Instead, Dutro referred to the group as an ad hoc mayor’s committee. Therefore, the group cannot take any official action regarding the railroad project, but can only make recommendations to the full redevelopment commission.

Commissioner Don Trapp questioned whether the community committee is subject to Indiana Open Door Laws, but commission attorney Stan Gamso said it is not.

However, Dorenbusch said members of the public are welcome to attend all community committee meetings. He suggested that the meeting dates and locations be posted on the redevelopment webpage to give residents easy access to the meeting schedule.

Columbus resident Kenneth Fudge filed a complaint Monday with the Indiana Public Access Counselor’s office alleging that the committee’s meetings violated the state’s Open Door Laws. Pope said she had received a copy of the complaint but declined to comment on it.

About Louisville & Indiana's project

CSX Transportation plans to invest up to $100 million to make improvements to railroad line owned by the Louisville & Indiana Railroad company to increase the number of freight trains that can run along its lines each day, including ones through Columbus.

The changes would allow the railroad company to run trains up to 7,500 feet long, compared to 5,100 feet now, and travel up to 49 mph, compared to 15 to 25 mph now. Additionally, each train’s capacity would be increased from carrying up to 263,000 pounds of freight to carrying up to 286,000 pounds of freight.

Committee members

Members of the Railroad Project Community Committee:

  • John Dorenbusch, Columbus Redevelopment Commission vice president
  • Dave Hayward, executive director of public works and city engineer
  • Jeff Bergman, city-county planning department director
  • Heather Pope, Columbus redevelopment director
  • Rick Flohr, county commissioner
  • Frank Jerome, Columbus City Council president
  • Jason Hester/Allie Castetter, Columbus Economic Development Board
  • Rich Freeland/Shannon Kiely-Heider, citizen participant/Cummins
  • Rich Gold, citizen participant
  • George Dutro, citizen participant
  • Jesse Brand, citizen participant
  • Rick Johnson, citizen participant
  • Tom Vujovich, citizen participant

Although the railroad project falls under the jurisdiction of the city redevelopment office, the redevelopment commission does not consider it a subcommittee of the commission.

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Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.