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UP delay will push back rail crossing fixes

Monday, October 8, 2012

When it comes to getting rough rail crossings smoothed out in Le Mars, the options are later and much later.

That's according to City Administrator Scott Langel, who shared the news with the Le Mars City Council last week.

Railroad company Union Pacific, which owns several of the rough crossings in Le Mars, is only willing to work with the city to fix the crossing in one of two ways, according to information Langel received from Mike Blackley, a Union Pacific representative in Omaha, Neb.

One is to share the cost 50/50 between the city of Le Mars and Union Pacific (UP).

The other option is to be placed on a waiting list for state dollars that pay 60 percent of a rail crossing project, with the city and the railroad each paying 20 percent.

That list is so long, the city would likely not see any state dollars until 2015, Langel said.

The 50/50 share with UP would still mean waiting, but Blackley said that would be about six to eight months, pushing the project into 2013.

"We can't get one done this fall," Langel told the council. "UP as a corporate entity doesn't work that fast."

Langel said he "expressed disappointment" about the delay to Blackley, telling him that historically Le Mars has been able to work directly with the rail companies' roadmaster, the person in charge of track maintenance.

In the past, those roadmasters made sure repairs were quickly completed, Langel said.

Blackley gave Langel a contact number for a UP director of maintenance and service. Langel said he has not heard back from that contact yet.

The city administrator told the council his suggestion is to pursue the 50/50 share option with Blackley, and continue to try to work with the director of maintenance to create a more long-term maintenance plan for the road crossings.

UP representative Mark Davis said part of the reason it will take six to eight months to address the crossings in Le Mars is that it takes about that much time to schedule the crews to do the work.

"The crews that work on all the railroad maintenance projects are scheduled for other projects, and usually it takes up to that time to get them scheduled and the material ordered," Davis said in a phone interview this week.

Those crews are often scheduled months and even years in advance, he said.

Also, some asphalt plants shut down during this time of year so it can be difficult to find the necessary asphalt, Davis added.

Councilman Rex Knapp urged Langel to send photos of the rough crossings and recent traffic counts to Blackley and others at UP to help explain the severity of the situation.

Knapp said it's hard to wait for UP to agree to the rail crossing fixes because, in the meantime, "it looks like we're the ones dropping the ball."

The rough crossings the council has been discussing include those at 12th Street Southwest, Central Avenue, Sixth Avenue Southwest and First Street Northeast.

According to Langel, it appears at those crossings that the rail has sunk lower, causing a wide gap for road vehicles to cross.

Repairing the crossings is complicated because of special easements owned by the railroad companies around rail crossings.

For example, UP has an easement that requires special permission from the rail company be given before any work be done within 25 feet of the rail's center line, Langel said.

"Anything 5 1/2 feet from the center line, no one can touch it other than the railroad," he said.

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Nice job dropping the ball on this one Langel! You were satisfied with, "a verbal "handshake agreement" over the phone with a Union Pacific representative..." (http://www.lemarssentinel.com/story/1857581.html) and never followed up until over 3 months later. Why didn't you put any pressure on them to get things going? Why did just accept what they said, and not follow up to find out when things would happen? Oh, yes, I know you did that - IN SEPTEMBER, and after the previous contact had left (http://www.lemarssentinel.com/story/1896678.html)! If you'd have followed up, you would have known that contact was gone, and you could have started a dialogue with his replacement. But no - you just assume that his replacement is going to get in touch with you and finish what was started. Do your job Langel, or get out! From what I've seen in the past year with this and with the Highway 3 project, you're lucky that YOUR job isn't on the election ballot for retention. It's a good bet YOU'D be voted out; in fact, if Mayor Kirchoff is reading this, seriously, call this guy (Langel) on his ineptitude and replace him as soon as possible. NOTHING gets done with this guy running things (Hwy 3, railroads, 12th Street bump, sidewalks not being finished, et al). Do us all a favor, and show him the door!

-- Posted by DissentingOpinion on Mon, Oct 8, 2012, at 1:06 PM

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