The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.
by Dessa Rodeffer, Quill Publisher/Owner
Gladstone Board members and guests last Tuesday evening heard BNSF Railway's Special Projects Manager Craig Rasmussen, make an offer to eliminate one of three railroad crossings in Gladstone to alleviate safety concerns for the public and upkeep concerns for the railway and village.
"By eliminating one of the crossings, the township or village is able to participate in an incentive program and gain improvements on a second crossing."
That incentive program could benefit Gladstone by $77,500, with $50,000 of that amount to be used according to Motor Fuel Tax guidelines.
"No project can be done without the blessing of the Illinois Commerce Commission," it was noted.
State Representative Rich Myers told The Quill, he was at the meeting after hearing conflicting stories from residents.
Mayor Rex McKinney said he had been told that a closure was being made by the railroad with the Village having no choice in the matter. He was later told that the Illinois Commerce Commission has the final say on railroad closings, and not the railroad.
Myers wanted to make sure the Illinois Commerce Commission issue was understood. He, along with Michael Stead, Rail Safety Program Administration, was on hand from the Illinois Commerce Commission.
Rasmussen said that we (BNSF) are suggesting three options.
1- Either the village's Liberty Crossing (East) can be closed and added improvements can be made on the existing crossing Municipal Township Crossing (West), or
2- The Municipal Township Crossing (West) can be closed and we can do added improvements at the Village's Liberty Crossing (East) offering the Village an incentive program, or
3- There is the "do nothing" option, leaving things as they are.
Mayor McKinney questioned Rasmussen, "I was told we were going to get a crossing bar and lights on Liberty Street. Basically, what I see you are doing is taking a good crossing (you had said you would improve) to furnish this other one. You are taking the light we were suppose to get up here (at Liberty crossing) and moving it down there (to the Township's crossing).
Michael Stead of The Illinois Commerce Commission said they (the ICC) had made a recommendation that safety concerns needed to be addressed in his 5-year report.
"At that time we had an IDOT report saying there were 75-100 vehicles that crossed the tracks a day, and that 35 to 40 trains a day went through the community. I am not sure those figures are accurate. We think there are less in both instances."
"The ICC feels safety improvements should be addressed in at least one of these crossing locations, and we are willing to provide a city incentive program for you to voluntarily close one of the crossings.
"I realize, everyone has a favorite route to cross the track but in order to eliminate that favorite route, we are prepared to offer $50,000 minimum to the village if they voluntarily close one of the crossings."
Stead said incentive funds come from "The Great Crossing Protection Fund" established in 1955 to improve public safety. These funds can not be used on state highways, he said.
The ICC has received $70 million for crossings and bridge improvements state-wide, an amount which is less than anticipated because of the state's need compared to other years, "but still, we have a lot of money," Stead said.
"You are looking at $77,500 plus whatever amount the railroad would pay to improve that crossing.
"You have other things to think of...public safety concerns. It does not look as if both crossings are necessary. I may be wrong, I don't live here, but we are willing to do whatever we can to improve safety here in Gladstone," Stead said.
"You can choose not to do anything, but we (ICC) recommend that your decision be influenced by the number of trains going through here and that the possibility of collisions are greater every year. If you want to close one, we will work with you, he said.
Mayor McKinney said he was not sure how the village got involved.
Stead explained that it involved a map by IDOT revived in 1994 showing that the west crossing is in the village limits. Recently, we have found that both the Township, the railroad, and the Village are involved.
Rasmussen said, "Hopefully, tonight, the right people can gather to make the right decision. This is still on an informative page now.
Mayor McKinney informed them that they have Twomeys, the largest family-owned grain storage facility in the U.S., located west of the track, and all Gladstone's emergency equipment is located on the opposite side of the track. The ambulancne is a block south from the Municipal Township Crossing.
Further facts revealed there was needed grade work on the north side of the tracks at that crossing.
The railroad is offering to furnish the flashing gates, and the soft work is also at the expense of the railroad, and the surface renewal work is part of "The Great Crossing Protection Fund"
Administrative rules give specific requirement for grade levels in crossings, so more than likely, the surfaces will be repaired.
Others asked why repairs were not made at crossings that were not safe in other areas along the railroad.
"If you have an issue or questions about a specific crossing, let us know by e-mail or mail and we will inspect it. We haven't kept up on all crossings due to a shortage of help.
It costs $20,000 for a set of lights, which would be $40,000 for both crossings.
One visitor said, it sounds like a pretty cheap investment.
The railroad and the ICC would like to have one closed but it is up to the Village and the Township which they want closed.
There is always approach work responsibilities along the state highway by IDOT and the others by the Township and the Village roads.
There was further discussion by village officials if the main crossing is down, there is not a safe way to cross a semi. One said, he would like to see farmers going down a ways.
Mayor McKinney said, "I want what is best for the people of Gladstone. If you take our crossing, we are without $70,000."
Officials reminded that every crossing is a public crossing whether it is village or township.
Rasmussen said, "What the railroad is offering is that the crossings are going to become vastly better than it is today.
We will maintain flashing lights and gates, and offer an incentive of $50,000 from the state and we (BNSF) will offer another $20,000 for roadwork and we will do improvement work with the Village gaining about $77,500 dollars in money and improvement work.
You can use the ($50,000) grant funds within the Motor Fuel Tax guidelines which are very broad, Stead said.
He warned, if they did nothing, that "Safety work needs to be addressed by the Village and tickets can be issued (by the ICC), but we don't want to do that!"
Stead's best recommendation is "The East crossing needs to be closed."
Board members discussed just how it would work for big beams and semi loads coming off HWY 34 onto a township road with weight limits.
One option drew a laugh, of building an overpass.
"It might be a long-term option, but I don't think we'd have the funds," Stead said.
A decision needs to be made whether to keep two crossings open and participate with the incentive program, with one crossing paid for by state and railroads, and which of the crossings you will close, Liberty Street or Municipal Township Road crossing, or to do nothing and leave it as is.
If you choose to do nothing, the railroad's option is to file a petition with the state saying we have three crossings in Gladstone, with the railroad filing a petition to close a crossing because it meets certain conditions, and then the township and village have the opportunity to give their side.
The worse case scenario for Gladstone would be they rule in favor of the railroad, a crossing would be closed, and you have nothing from incentives, plus you have your attorney fees.
Stead said, that since the ruling passed in 1998-99, to date, no railroad crossing in the state of Illinois has been forced closed by petition. All have been closed on a volunteer basis.
"It is not a matter of smoke and mirrors," Rasmussen said, "It's how many crossing do you really need to cross the railroad track here."
"The mud will be back there, if you want to keep it the way it is."
"The consensus, it sounds, is that Liberty street is not used very much."
"If we go ahead with the closing at Liberty Street, the railroad will show the property line and put up rails or barricades if you want, or if you want it somewhere else, (or not at all) we can do that. We can make it look like a road was never there.
Another question was, "How many times have you seen the Main Street crossing closed? They recalled one time in 1980 when it was closed to fix the crossing.
Rasmussen asked village officials to let him know what they want to do and he will send a letter of agreement for each of them to sign and they will petition for a closing through ICC showing who will pay for what.
It will go into administrative law after a judge rules, and nothing happens until Illinois Commerce Commission issues an order.
"Then, we will have "X" number of days to do the work. It could take a couple of months for the agreement or it could be a year or so to get things done.
Board members plan to discuss their feelings at the upcoming March 10th regular meeting of the Gladstone Board.
The Mayor, Clerk, and all board members and several guests were present at the meeting which was held at the Gladstone Community Building.
Michael Stead, Illinois Commerce Commission's Rail Safety Manager, gives his recommendations to the Gladstone Board for closing one of three railroad crossings in Gladstone during a special meeting last Tuesday.