Johnson County asking state for nearly $6 million to make railroad crossings safer

GREENWOOD, Ind. (WISH) — Leaders in Johnson County are working to make railroad crossings safer. They have lobbied lawmakers in Washington DC, gone to the railroad companies and now they’re turning to the state.

Officials in Franklin, New Whiteland, Greenwood and Johnson County have joined together to apply for a $5.8 million grant. The money would cover the costs of crossing arms, bells and lights. Those are measures they say are necessary to keep people safe when upcoming changes go into effect. The changes would make trains faster, heavier and there would be more of them. It’s a safety concern for officials and it’s personal for one dad.

Feb. 3, 2007 is a date that Chuck Findley will never forget.

“It was the night before the Super Bowl when the Colts and the Bears were playing,” Findley recounted. My two young boys, Jake was 12, Travis was nine, huge Colts fans of course, were just with some friends of ours. Coming back from their house, and at Stones Crossing in Greenwood, they were hit by a train and they didn’t survive.”

At the time that railroad crossing didn’t have crossing arms or flashing lights, just a stop sign. That has since changed.

“In my case, I think if there would’ve been flashing lights or cross arms, I think my boys would still be here to this day,” Findley said. “It never gets easier. The pain never really goes away. You just have to deal with it each and every day. But, the reason I’m standing here right now is to honor my boys and do this for them. If I can make a difference in any way, I know they’d want me to do that.”

After their deaths, Findley and his community raised enough money to add enhancements to four tracks, including Stones Crossing, where his sons died. He’s concerned that more lives will be lost when trains are able to move faster.

According to Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers, once CSX railroad company upgrades the track, the changes will go into effect. He says trains will go double the speed from about 25 miles per hour to 50 miles per hour. They will increase in weight by about 20,000 pounds to 286,000 pounds and three times as many trains will pass through, up to 17 per day, according to Myers.

“It’s going to be a heavier train. They don’t stop on a dime. They’re going to be doing 50 miles per hour. I’m afraid that somebody is going to try and play chicken with that train,” he said.

That’s why Myers is turning to the state for funding. The grant would cover the most heavily traveled crossings like Main Street in Greenwood, where around 16,000 vehicles drive over the tracks per day.

“Each intersection, like the one behind us, is about $325,000 to upgrade it with the crossing arms, with the new lights, with the whistles. If it’s out in the county, it requires less work. Those are about $250,000 a piece,” said Myers.

A small price to pay if you ask Findley.

“If you upgrade a crossing and it saves one life, it’s worth it. I mean, what price do you put on a life?” Findley asked.

Changes would go into effect within the next few years, according to Myers, it’s all contingent upon the tracks being upgraded to accommodate the faster trains. Myers says the funds would come after 2020, if approved. If not, he says they will continue to lobby lawmakers and go after the railroad companies.

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