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Line swap will impact county rail crossings

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

BENTON -- A railroad deal which would route additional train traffic through Scott County would include improvements to four county road crossings.

During the regular Scott County Commission meeting Tuesday, Chris Peterson, Union Pacific's director of government affairs and corporate relations for the state, discussed his railroad's plans to acquire the Burlington Northern Santa Fe tracks running from Rockview in northern Scott County through Sikeston by trading some of its tracks in Colorado to BNSF.

The trade, which must be approved by the Surface Transportation Board, would enable Union Pacific to implement the more-efficient "directional running" in which a line is used to route trains in one direction while another nearby track carries trains going the opposite direction.

"We don't anticipate action from the Surface Transportation Board until at least March 2006," Peterson said.

If Union Pacific gets approval from the STB, Peterson said it would take nine months before construction on the lines could be completed. He said additional train traffic would not be in Scott County until November or December 2006.

Having met with railroad officials regarding drainage issues related to tracks in Rockview, Scott County commissioners have known for over a year about Union Pacific's plan to swap lines and increase daily traffic by about 10 trains.

Information about crossing improvements was welcome news, however. "I had never heard that before today," said Presiding Commissioner Martin Priggel.

Peterson noted that Priggel mentioned the word "safety" several times during their meeting. "Safety: it is our No. 1 priority," Peterson said. "We're very mindful of safety issues."

Commissioners are "not anti-railroad," Priggel said, but are concerned and have a responsibility for the safety of Scott County's citizens.

"Our concern is from Rockview through Sikeston," Commissioner Jamie Burger said. The additional trains would cross 11 county roads and six state roads south of Rockview, commissioners figured.

Plans are, if the STB approves the line swap, to put lights and gates at County Road 209, County Road 252, County Road 411 and County Road 450.

The cost for lights and gates is about $200,000 per intersection. Rod Massman from the Missouri Department of Transportation's Jefferson City office said the crossings will be funded through a cost-share agreement with Union Pacific. "This will come out of state railroad safety money," Massman said.

As plans also include adding gates to the State Highway 91 crossing, which already has lights, and putting lights and gates at Highway Z, all the state road crossings would be covered.

Asked about a timetable for putting the lights and gates up, Massman said that once Union Pacific gets permission, "we will pretty much put it into action then. ... Once that happens things will move very quickly."

Burger asked if intersection improvements will be in place before the increase in train traffic.

"We would certainly attempt to do that," said Ken Rouse of Union Pacific.

The crossing for County Road 452 also should have lights and gates added due to line-of-sight issues, commissioners agreed. "We want it to be as safe as it can possibly be," Priggel said.

A complex formula which includes line-of-sight distance and train speeds is used to determine which crossings will get lights and gates, according to Massman. "A lot of it is a factor of traffic counts," he said.

"Just because they're not getting lights and gates now doesn't mean they won't later," Massman added.

Union Pacific officials also asked commissioners to consider closing County Road 205 at Rockview as it would provide a siding where trains could park, possibly reducing times other Rockview crossings are blocked.

Burger said Rockview's residents are often frustrated by trains that are so long they block all of the town's routes north to Cape Girardeau but said several farmers depend on the County Road 205 crossing for their operations.

"The people that use it want to keep it," said Priggel.

Commissioners also asked about drainage issues at Rockview. Railroad officials advised one culvert is actually BNSF's, but they plan to replace it for better relations with the community.

Burger said an oval corrugated pipe nearby, which is hard to see and always has water in it, has reached the end of its useful life and needs to be replaced as well. "Not many people realize it's back there," he said.