Hazmat speeds among concerns raised in CSX deal
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Emergency management officials want trains laden with dangerous chemicals to slow down as they approach the Louisville metro area from Southern Indiana.
The city's public works department is seeking a solution to safety issues surrounding a “badly deteriorated” rail overpass at 4th Street near the University of Louisville's Belknap campus.
At another area near U of L, the university warns that more trains crossing Shipp Street could lead to a “major problem” -- students who live in off-campus housing climbing under or over stopped cars.
Those concerns were raised late last year in the final weeks of public comment on a deal allowing CSX Corp. to move heavier and faster trains between Louisville and Indianapolis. The U.S. Surface Transportation Board hasn't issued a final decision.
If approved, CSX would pay $10 million to Jeffersonville, Ind.-based Louisville and Indiana Railroad Co. for the rights to the 106-mile line and make up to $90 million in improvements. On average, up to 15 more trains a day would use the upgraded line.
With a direct route between Louisville and Indianapolis, CSX would shuffle trains that now use tracks between Louisville and Cincinnati to reach customers in Ohio, Indiana and the upper Midwest.
As a result, traffic would climb on some rail corridors in Louisville and Southern Indiana. Wait times are expected to double at crossings in Louisville's California and Algonquin neighborhoods.
With an increase in faster trains, “there is greater potential for more hazmat incidents either from leaks or de-railings,” Debbie Fox, director of the Louisville/Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency, wrote in her comment.
Fox suggested that trains carrying hazardous materials should travel no faster than 25 miles per hour within 14 miles of a “populated area,” and follow a speed limit of 45 miles per hour in rural areas.
The 14-mile distance represents how far gas from a chlorine car derailment, for example, would travel while dangerous, said Jim Bottom, the agency's technological hazards coordinator.
“We're making the assumption, that worst-case scenario, you're going to be hauling hazardous materials,” Bottom said. “You're not bringing … a load of pillows – it's a load of chemicals.”
Bottom said upgrading the rail line may result in fewer accidents, but he predicted those that occur will be severe.
“Especially when it comes to tank cars -- the higher the speed the train is going, the more likely you're going to have a penetration of a tank car when they come off the tracks,” Bottom said.
But CSX attorney Louis E. Gitomer responded that the railroad companies don't believe more work to minimize hazmat risks is justified. In a December letter to the Transportation Board, he noted that CSX and L&I have agreed, among other things, to follow federal rules for moving hazardous materials and provide training to communities that request it.
In addition, Gitomer said, the line between Louisville and Indianapolis will not become a “key route” for shipments of hazardous materials. Such routes carry at least 10,000 car loads of hazardous substances a year, according to the Association of American Railroads.
The increase in trains on a CSX line in Louisville also drew concerns from U of L and city public works officials. That line would see 18 trains per day, up from 6, according to estimates.
Metro government has a “significant concern” with the condition of the CSX overpass at 4th Street near U of L, according to a letter from Patrick Johnson, traffic engineering manager in the public works department. The overpass is near student housing and the university's Student Activities Center.
“The overpass structure is badly deteriorated and generally in poor condition,” Johnson wrote. “The drainage is deficient and silt seeps through the structure such that the sidewalk is essentially unsafe and impassable after a heavy rain thus creating a public safety issue on the public right-of-way.”
Gitomer didn't directly address those concerns in CSX's reply but said “the overpasses … will continue to be maintained as they are currently maintained."
The CSX line also crosses Shipp Avenue near U of L. Cars and people on foot are delayed, on average, nine minutes when those streets are blocked by trains, according to estimates.
U of L urged more scrutiny of the impact on the “large amount” of pedestrian crossings at Shipp Avenue, near two student housing buildings and three others under construction, U of L's Kenneth Dietz wrote in a comment sent in December.
If not addressed, Dietz warned of a “major problem” with students possibly climbing over or crawling under stopped train cars.
U of L spokesman Mark Hebert said the university submitted comments to raise issues about student safety in an area that has been redeveloped in recent years.
“The railroad and others, through no fault of their own, may not have appreciated that it has changed from an industrial area,” Hebert said.
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