Indiana rail upgrade decision expected this fall

(WISH Photo/Robb Ellis)

COLUMBUS, Ind. (AP) — Officials expect a decision soon from federal regulators regarding plans for upgrading more than 100 miles of railroad tracks through southern Indiana.

The proposal from Louisville & Indiana Railroad and CSX Transportation would allow the line between Indianapolis and Louisville, Kentucky, to handle larger and faster freight trains.

The companies had expected a decision from the federal Surface Transportation Board by late summer, and a board spokesman said that timeline was still intact. But Louisville & Indiana Railroad president John Goldman told The Republic for a story published Monday that he expects the project to be approved by the end of October, which means construction would start next year.

The project, estimated to cost between $70 million and $90 million, would see construction work stretch over seven years and include converting the 106.5-mile line’s existing jointed steel rails to continuous welded ones.

Once the project is complete, the current speed limit of 25 mph for trains would increase by 5 mph every two weeks until it reaches a new speed limit of 45 mph. In curved areas, trains would only reach speeds of 25 mph, still faster than the current curved-area speed limit of 10 mph, according to Jeffersonville-based Louisville & Indiana.

Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown said she remains worried about an increase in train traffic causing more delays for drivers and emergency vehicles — concerns that she raised in a letter to the federal agency in April.

Trains passing through the city about 40 miles south of Indianapolis sometimes cause backups on Indiana 46 that can stretch up to two miles and take an hour to clear, Brown said.

The railroads expect CSX will shift up to 15 trains a day to the upgraded line, but Goldman said the line’s faster speeds will limit delays at crossings.

Currently the maximum weight the line can handle is 263,000 pounds. But the new, stronger rails would be able to handle 286,000-pound cars, bringing the route up to industry standards, Goldman said.

The upgrade would make the line a more viable option for companies seeking to establish a factory or other business along its route, he said, and also would open up new markets for the railroad’s current customers.

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