The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio hosted public hearings in Galion and Mount Gilead on July 15 to hear public testimony regarding the proposed closure of a railroad crossing.
CSX Transportation, Inc. filed a petition in March to close the crossing on Bloomingrove-New Winchester Road (Morrow-Crawford County Line Road). It is located south of Galion and west of State Route 309.
In the petition, CSX cites low traffic volume and potentially dangerous site distance as the primary reasons for closure. It also states the closure “will not cause unreasonable inconvenience to the public because it is a redundant crossing and all vehicular traffic can be diverted to adjacent roads…”
Bryce McKenney, the attorney examiner for PUCO, opened the public hearing in Galion by explaining that PUCO will take all public comments into account when reviewing the proposal. It will also consider several factors, including: Vehicular and train traffic at the crossing and nearby crossings, the closure’s projected impact on traffic, the total number of rail crossings within one linear mile and the type of advance warning devices they have, and impact on emergency vehicles and commercial enterprises.
During the hearing, several people had comments to share. The two biggest concerns involved timely access for emergency service vehicles and the unknowns of what would happen after the crossing is closed, such as the real traffic impact on nearby crossings.
Patricia Rondon, a resident of Polk Township, said she has lived in the area long enough to see the flooding that regularly occurs on roads near the crossing, such as Taylor and Iberia. She said Bloomingrove-New Winchester Road becomes a particularly important route when it is the only accessible roadway.
Rick and Kym Fox own a 140-acre farm near the crossing. They have lived there for over 25 years and could not recall many traffic accidents occurring, despite the “S” curve that the road makes at the crossing.
Rick recalled that they have had some fires at the farm and the fire trucks used Bloomingrove-New Winchester Road to get there. Also, large grain trucks need to use that road because other routes have very tight intersections; closing the crossing will put an undue burden on farmers in the area.
Another major issue the speakers took was CSX’s common practice of blocking crossings to use the track as a siding for trains.
“We don’t know for sure how the tracks will be used,” Kym Fox said. “The railroad has taken great liberty in the last few years to sit for long periods of time on the tracks, so you can’t get across them.”
Sandra Sautter agreed, saying that the trains literally sit there for hours. Legally, the railroad is supposed to “break” the train so that road crossings are not blocked.
David Keller, an attorney at the Crawford County Prosecutor’s Office and also Galion’s Assistant Law Director, stated, “I have prosecuted CSX 12 times for blocking this crossing as well as the two next to it, and, on at least one occasion, blocking all three at the same time.”
He said closing the crossing so CSX can park their trains is not a legitimate reason. “The community is already being burdened. Fewer crossings will make it more of a challenge…What is the demonstrable need to close this crossing? It seems ridiculous that we would consider rewarding them for bad behavior.”
In a letter dated April 30, the Crawford County Commissioners rejected CSX’s request. That night, Commissioners Doug Weisenauer and Jenny Vermillion were on hand to repeat their arguments.
Weisenauer noted that CSX made an offer to Morrow County that was “insultingly low.” He was referring to an offer of $15,000 that could be used for highway safety improvements, which the Morrow County Commissioners declined; they also previously requested that the proposal be denied.
Vermillion added that Crawford County did not receive any similar offer, yet it will bear the brunt of the rerouting of traffic if the crossing is closed, as most drivers would use the crossings on Biddle Road and State Route 309.
Weisenauer also emphasized that roads were put in to benefit the residents and their needs should be considered before the railroad’s. He suggested that CSX construct an overpass if it needs a place to park its trains.
Sean Britt, a resident on County Road 8 in Morrow County, said he sometimes needs to drive a semi truck home and the crossing is the only route he can take. He agreed with others’ statements and added that the closing is unnecessary.
Richard Sautter, another resident, recalled the road closure on State Route 309 in May for repairs to that railroad crossing. Because traffic had to be diverted to side roads, he asked what would happen if that crossing was closed for repairs in the future.
With no other public comments the public hearing came to a close. The next step in the process is an evidentiary hearing, at which time CSX will make its case. The date for this hearing has not been set.
Katie Salvator, PUCO’s communications and outreach manager, further explained that the five-member commission will make its decision on whether or not to close the crossing based on these hearings and all associated documents. In the meantime, the crossing will remain open to vehicular traffic.