Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Railroad, Reading battle



By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] The Indiana & Ohio Railroad wants to close this crossing at Vorhees and Second streets in Reading, as well as one at Vine and Second streets.
(Michael Snyder photo)
READING - This small Mill Creek Valley city is chugging ahead in its fight with the Indiana & Ohio Railroad over the proposed closing of two crossings in Reading's downtown business district.

Mayor Robert "Bo" Bemmes, City Council and some residents and business owners want to derail the railroad's push to close the crossings at Voorhees and Vine streets between Reading Road and Second Street.

Opponents of the closings say it would inconvenience residents, hurt some Reading businesses and create traffic problems on other streets.

"If both were closed, it would not only be a great inconvenience, but a safety issue," Bemmes said.

Railroad officials say the two crossings are unnecessary because vehicles can use other nearby crossings. Closing those two would reduce the chance of trains colliding with cars, while causing minimal inconvenience for residents and businesses, they said.

"Redundant railroad crossings present safety concerns to the general public and should be eliminated where feasible," said Mick Burkart, vice president for the Midwest region for RealAmerica Inc, the parent company of Indiana & Ohio Railroad.

The dispute will be decided by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.In March, there will be an evidence-gathering hearing at the utility commission's office in Columbus. The commission will decide the fate of the crossings within three months of the hearing.

Reading, a city on a tight budget, has spent about $8,000 in legal fees to battle the proposed closings. Council recently authorized city administrators to spend up to $10,000 more in legal fees to fight it.

"It's awfully tough to fight the railroad, and it's awfully tough to win," said Albert "Bud" Elmlinger, Reading's safety service director.

The Voorhees crossing is more likely to be closed than the Vine crossing.

The approach to the crossing is so steep that the bottoms of some vehicles scrape the pavement next to the tracks. The city prohibits tractor-trailers from using that crossing because some trucks have gotten stuck on the tracks.

Reading Fire Chief Kevin Kaiser and Police Chief Greg Hilling have recommended closing the Voorhees crossing.

Kaiser said the high elevation of the rail crossing makes it hazardous.

"The crossing needs to be improved, and I don't see anything happening quickly," Kaiser said. "It needs to be closed."

Bemmes and some other Reading officials said the railroad simply wants to avoid the expense of installing gates at the crossings.

Keith Brumley, general manager of Sorrento's Restaurant at Reading and Voorhees, said shutting down the Voorhees crossing would hurt his business. Most patrons driving down Benson Street turn left on Second Street, cross the railroad tracks and turn into the restaurant parking lot.

Ray and Sunny Brown, who live on Third Street near the Vine crossing, said they want both crossings to remain open.

"Vine Street is my main way of getting out of here," Sunny Brown said.

"Let the railroad stop coming through Reading," her husband said. "This is our town, not theirs."

E-mail skemme@enquirer.com




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