Will Miller (L), public safety director for Norfolk Southern, out of Atlanta, speaks to the Kosciusko County Commissioners Tuesday about the agreement to close the railroad crossing at South CR 400E, west of the town of Sidney. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
Will Miller (L), public safety director for Norfolk Southern, out of Atlanta, speaks to the Kosciusko County Commissioners Tuesday about the agreement to close the railroad crossing at South CR 400E, west of the town of Sidney. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
An agreement between Kosciusko County and Norfolk Southern approved by the County Commissioners Tuesday will close the railroad crossing at South CR 400E by year’s end.

In presenting the agreement for the Commissioners’ approval, county attorney Ed Ormsby said there were some conditions that had been negotiated with Norfolk Southern for the closure, which had been considered at Norfolk Southern’s request.

“One is that within 120 days, if the county passes a resolution supporting the closure of the crossing, Norfolk Southern shall pay to the county $250,000,” he said.

Norfolk Southern shall also, at its sole expense, including labor, materials and equipment, remove the crossing from the railroad tracks. It will reimburse the county for the cost of the barricades erected at the crossing.

At its sole expense, Norfolk Southern also shall, including, but not limited to, all labor, materials and equipment, construct a suitable turnaround at the south side of the tracks, which will become part of the dedicated roadway for future maintenance by the county.

Norfolk Southern, at its sole expense, shall extend two existing culverts underneath the tracks into the railroad right-of-way.

“There is also contemplated future projects that will be subject to separate agreements. If those future projects are approved by all of the governmental entities necessary ... Norfolk Southern will also pay additional $100,000 to the county. They will pay the 10% local match for installation of the fully automatic warning devices at one of the crosses and also constructing and install fully automatic warning devices at the First Street crossing, as well,” Ormsby said.

Representatives of Norfolk Southern attended the Commissioners meeting.

“We really appreciate how well this has gone and how smoothly. It’s a win-win, I think, for us, with the longer trains, bigger trains that need more rail,” Commissioner Bob Conley told them.

Will Miller, public safety director for Norfolk Southern, out of Atlanta, said, “We’re here to thank the county for working through this, to come to this agreement. We’re asking for your support in adopting it. We are trying to build the railroad of tomorrow and this is a very important place for us in between Fort Wayne and Chicago. It moves a significant amount of our traffic and we think this will make significant improvements to State Road 13 and allow us to accommodate the freight route that we’re seeing in the country.”

Conley said a lot of the trains are getting a lot longer and bigger to keep the country moving.

Cary Groninger, Commissioner, thanked the “whole team,” especially Ormsby, for working “very hard” on the agreement, “one that we could accept, as well as, financially, it’s a good move for the county. This has additional money to fix the roads that need to happen in that area.”

He said the county will receive some money, some drainage issues will be fixed and “all around, I think they’ve done a wonderful job of getting us what we need and what we really wanted to be able to give the southern part of the county through this agreement.” Groninger said this closure will enable Ind. 13 and Packerton Road crossings to be able to stay open.

“I think this is a win-win. I just appreciate, Ed, all of your efforts. I think you’ve done a great job for us,” Groninger said.

Conley thanked Highway Department Superintendent Steve Moriarty for being involved with the Michiana Area Council of Governments on helping the county decide whether or not to close the railroad crossing.

After the Commissioners unanimously approved the agreement, they also approved for Conley, as the Commissioners president, to sign the agreement on behalf of the Commissioners and they approved the corresponding ordinance to close the crossing.

In an interview after the Commissioners meeting, Miller said the 400E railroad crossing is west of the town of Sidney. He said the closure will be by the end of this year.

“There will be signs that likely will say ‘No Outlet.’ So anyone that’s unfamiliar will be able to see those signs,” Miller said. “Now, there will be a turnaround constructed on the south side of the railroad tracks. On the north side, it’s kind of a natural turn already with the parallel roadway, so there’s really no need to try and do anything for a turnaround on the north side.”

He said any school bus, fire truck or any normal passenger-type vehicle will be able to use the turnaround.

As to why Norfolk Southern wanted to close the 400E crossing, Miller said, “Every time we close an intersection between highway traffic and rail traffic, we certainly eliminate the incident of any accident happening at that location. This project does that, but it also really shifts our traffic where we need to hold traffic.

“Again, this is a very busy corridor in between Chicago and Fort Wayne. Currently, we run about 32 trains a day on this line. And as trains get longer, then we have to have suitable places to store them without interfering with the traveling public’s mobility and that’s what this project does. It takes really any future frustration off the table and it’s a win-win for the county and Norfolk Southern.”

Miller said the project has been a couple years in the works. It wasn’t funded until earlier this year and it’s scheduled to be in-service by the end of the year.

“We hope that timeline holds true. It could change,” he said, depending on things like the weather.

Trains do stop along those tracks as it’s already a “siding,” but it’s currently not the length the railroad company needs it to be to accommodate the freight trains that are moving in this part of the country, Miller said.

“So we’re extending the existing siding to about 3 miles in length,” he said.

“Siding” is the area where a train stops or where trains pass each other.

“Typically, you’ll have a main line. And then you may have a sidetrack or siding, as we call it, where trains can pass each other,” Miller said.

Asked about any future potential railroad crossings closings in the county, he said, “The only other thing we know about in the county is closer to Milford where the Indiana Department of Transportation approved a local tracks project using state funds. And that project will close three crossings, install automatic warning devices at another crossing and build a grid separation so a flyover over the tracks. So it’s a bigger project than the one at Sidney, but it’s one that’s in conjunction with INDOT.”