The sound of a whistles blowing in the middle of the night as a train travels through Seymour would be a distant memory if city officials have their way.
Seymour leaders are working to implement a “quiet zone” through the city by possibly installing gates and flashing lights at all crossings along the Louisville & Indiana Railroad. There’s also the potential for closing some crossings, city officials said.
“If we had them all gated and blocked off where people can’t get through, then a train can run through town without blowing its whistle. So when it comes through at 2 in the morning, you’re not waking everyone up,” Mayor Craig Luedeman said. “All the crossings get locked down, and the train goes right through.”
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The gates and quiet zone are being discussed as the railroad company and CSX Transportation upgrade the entire 106.5 miles of rail line from Louisville to Indianapolis.
Those upgrades include new, seamlessly welded railroad track that will greatly reduce the noise trains produce by eliminating the clickety-clack sound they make.
As part of that $100 million project, funded by CSX and the L&I, 14 railroad crossings in Seymour will be dug up and replaced starting as early as Wednesday at a cost of $40,000 to $70,000 per intersection.
Each crossing will be shut down for a couple of days when it is replaced. Workers have been staging needed materials and equipment in a parking lot across from the grain bins on U.S. 50.
But the railroad will not be paying for the gates or lights. That is left up to the city to fund, Luedeman said.
“The state has some grant money that you can apply for if you have a plan to either close crossings or help gate those and guard those,” he said.
Having the crossing gates and new rail in place also would decrease the amount of time motorists spend waiting because the trains would be able to move faster, said city engineer Nathan Frey.
“Right now, trains go through town about eight to 10 miles an hour, and they’re 5,000 feet long,” he said. “In the future, they are going to be up to 7,200 feet long. If that speed is increased to 25 or 30 miles an hour, the crossing will be blocked for a third of the time they are now.
“It’s getting the protection in place we need to make the facilities work the way they need to,” he added.
Resident Kendra Harris, who lives just south of the city, said she is all for not having to wait as long for trains but will miss the sounds.
“While I agree that the trains stopping in the middle of town during rush hour traffic is a headache, the late-night train whistles and noises don’t bother me a bit,” she said. “Growing up in Seymour, not even a block away from a train track, that 11 o’clock train would come through long after I had been tucked into bed.”
The sounds made her feel safe and at home, she added.
“I would feel the vibrations of the train on the tracks way before I’d hear the sounds and whistles,” she said. “The whole experience, every evening, was so familiar and so comforting. It meant mom and dad were home. It meant my sister and I were safe and sound. It meant we were all there, where we belonged. It was my lullaby if you will.”
Recently, the city signed an agreement with DLZ Engineering for services to study the railroad crossings. That study will take four months and will cost $65,900. It will collect traffic data for all the intersections within a couple of blocks on both sides of the railroad from Laurel Street through Ninth Street, Frey said.
It will show how many vehicles travel through them and at what time and will look at how changing traffic patterns might impact overall traffic flow.
“This data not only will be a count of vehicles but will include turning movements at each leg of the intersections,” Frey said. “The goal is to identify what upgrades are needed to make our street crossings as safe as possible while decreasing the amount of time that people sit in traffic waiting on a train.”
Luedeman said officials with L&I approached the city first with concerns about the number of crossings.
“One of the things L&I is worried about in Seymour is the number of unguarded or lack of gates at our crossings through town,” he said.
The study will give the city the data it needs to apply for funding from the state, he added.
“I think it’s a win-win for the city,” Luedeman said of the plan. “We just need some data behind that.”
Because upgrades can be costly, identifying the correct upgrades is vital, Frey added.
“We’re looking at improving the safety of these corridors,” Frey said. “The study will essentially help us decide what to do with those crossings.”
He added the city will make a decision once it has the data.
Board of works member and city council President Jim Rebber said he is concerned the railroad company isn’t doing enough. He said he recently drove over the Fourth Street crossing and is glad he stopped and proceeded slowly because of its condition.
“They seem like they have no responsibility for anything,” Rebber said.
Luedeman said the city asked railroad officials to look at Fourth Street specifically.
“They promised they would put a Band-Aid on it, but that Band-Aid still hasn’t come yet,” Luedeman said.
Rebber said he would like to see some signs put up indicating traffic needs to slow down near the Fourth Street crossing.
“People are going to tear up their cars up and sue the city,” he said.