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Railroad upgrades awaiting feds’ OK

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A federal decision is expected by late summer on replacing 106.5 miles of mainline railroad track from Louisville to Indianapolis, including Columbus.

Louisville & Indiana Railroad wants to start a $70 million to $90 million project converting its existing rails to continuous welded ones along the entire stretch, allowing trains to move faster and carry more weight.

The project would increase the number of trains running through Bartholomew County from six currently, eventually reaching 15 per day, L&I President Mike Stolzman told the Monday Noon Rotary Club.

A decision on the project was delayed by the federal Surface Transportation Board in December after the board decided it needed more time to consider environmental impacts of the construction.

The project would be in partnership with CSX Transportation, which also uses the rail line.

Stolzman said he’s hopeful the project will get federal approval by the end of summer, allowing a few months of construction work before the end of the year.

He said the L&I project would start work in Seymour and move south to Louisville before work begins in Columbus.

Stolzman said the project also calls for replacing a nearly 100-year-old railroad bridge in Columbus that runs across Flatrock River near Noblitt Park. The bridge would cost about $12 million and would be paid for by CSX.

Replacing the bridge would require building a new bridge on site, removing the old bridge and installing the new bridge with cranes, all within a 36-hour time frame, he said.

Big iron, big ideas

WHAT: Louisville & Indiana Railroad Co. rail line upgrades.

COST: $70 million to $90 million.

PURPOSE: Increase the number of trains running through Columbus from six currently to eventually 15 per day. Increase train speed from 25 mph to 45 mph.

“With all of this money, of course, there’s a reason why we’re doing it. We want to increase the level of train traffic,” Stolzman said.

Once the project is complete, the current speed limit of 25 mph for trains would increase by 5 mph every two weeks until it reaches a new speed limit of 45 mph, he said.

In curved areas, trains would only reach speeds of 25 mph, still faster than the current curved-area speed limit of 10 mph, he said.

Much of the work to replace the railroad will take place during 10- to 12-hour time periods during the daytime, when work can be done most efficiently, Stolzman said.

“Until we’re finished, we’ll have to button everything back up so we can continue running trains,” he said.

Stolzman said the company loses about $1 million an hour when trains aren’t running.

Although much of the construction work isn’t slated to take place until next year, Stolz-man said preparation has begun at six cross sections between Seymour and Columbus, which will be completely rebuilt starting next month.

He said the new cross sections would be smoother and less bumpy and would not require federal approval.

Stolzman said he understands how frustrating traffic delays caused by crossing trains can be for commuters, but he said the only real solution would be an overpass or underpass.

“You can’t move the railroad. You’re not going to move the highway. So it’s over or under,” he said. “Unless we come up with flying cars, you’re going to have to build a bridge somewhere.”

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