Clearing the way: Ambulances now able to avoid train traffic

People living on the east side of the Louisville and Indiana Railroad tracks in Seymour no longer will have to wait for medical help if a train blocks the tracks at 14 crossings in the city.

That’s because a project several years in the making was unveiled Wednesday afternoon.

That project involved the conversion of the garage at the former Indiana State Police post at 721 E. Tipton St. into an ambulance station to house one ambulance around the clock.

The need for a station on the east side of the tracks arose several years ago when the railroad and CSX Corp. proposed a $90 million upgrade of the 106.5-mile line, part of which passes north and south through Seymour.

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Louisville and Indiana Railroad owns the line, but CSX also uses it and owns a connecting east-west line that runs through the city.

The upgrade was approved by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board in April 2015.

The rail companies sought the upgrade to allow for an increase in trains using the line from two or three per day to more than 15. The upgrade also will allow for faster, longer and heavier trains.

The increased train traffic created concerns about emergency personnel being able to provide medical help to people on the east side of the tracks.

Jackson County Emergency Medical Services’ main station is on the west side of the city near Schneck Medical Center. Jackson County EMS has an agreement with the hospital to run its operations there, and a similar agreement has been put in place for the new ambulance station.

In 2013, 63 percent of the runs made by Jackson County EMS crews were east of the rail line. No further studies have been done since 2013.

With the increase in train activity, that meant Jackson County EMS may not have been able to get to a life-threatening situation.

Schneck purchased the 3.08-acre former state police property this past year from the state and financed the renovation of the garage. The post closed in early 2010 after it was consolidated with the Versailles Post.

The original building, constructed in 1991, was remodeled with the intent of making sure that the old structure blended well with the new structure, said Jason Fee, Schneck’s director of facilities.

“One of the biggest challenges was some of the floors were different heights,” he said.

The contractor had to remove a large part of several of the different floors to make it all one level, Fee said.

The new station features a kitchen, a living room area and office and storage spaces. There are two bathrooms with showers and four separate sleeping quarters. A new smaller garage also was put in place for storing lawnmowers and lawn care equipment.

The new station has three ambulance bays. One is for a full-time ambulance crew, another one is for a daytime crew to be stationed Monday through Friday and the third will serve as a backup bay.

Hugh Garner, Jackson County EMS education coordinator, said he is pleased with the new station.

“They did a very nice job. It’s going to be very comfortable for our crews to use,” Garner said. “We’re just really excited. The crew members are really excited, too.”

Dennis Brasher, executive director of Jackson County EMS, said State District 69 Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, and State District 44 Sen. Eric Koch were instrumental in making the purchase of the facility by Schneck possible.

“This is a great example of how your local, city, state and hospital board can work together to achieve something great,” Koch said.

Lucas said the fresh paint and nice new walls are easy to see.

“… but you don’t see the hard work that went into it,” Lucas said.

The station near the hospital will continue to have one full-time ambulance crew, a second daytime ambulance crew and a paramedic supervisor.

In the past, Brasher had said the new station wouldn’t alleviate all of the issues with trains traveling through.

There may be delays in patients needing hospital care, but they will be with trained medical personnel while waiting, he said.

There also have been some discussions about building an overpass over the rail line south of the city. That project, which has a price tag of about $30 million, would take years to complete.

Currently, there aren’t any plans for the former state police post building next to the new Jackson County EMS garage on East Tipton Street, said Debbie Ridlen Mann, vice president of finance and chief financial officer for Schneck.

Steps are being taken to preserve and maintain the building for future use, including replacing the roof, resealing the windows and weather proofing the exterior, she said.