The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) announced Nov. 18 they have granted CSX Transportation’s petition to close the rail crossing at Bloomingrove/New Winchester Road in Washington Township to vehicular and pedestrian traffic.
Residents and county officials have waited over a year to hear a decision since the PUCO held local public hearings on July 15, 2014 in Morrow and Crawford counties. An evidentiary hearing was held on March 3, 2015 at the PUCO offices.
The issue was heavily contested by Morrow County Commissioners, public officials and residents, some of who maintained this was a move on CSX’s part to have a place to station their cars, as has often been the case in the past.
In the Nov. 18 press release, the PUCO maintains the crossing is currently ranked the 110th most dangerous crossing in Ohio out of approximately 5,800 crossings, although there has been no documented accidents at that crossing. They also determined there is no demonstrable need for the grade crossing to exist, though in their petition for closure received March 7, 2014 by the commissioners, CSX stated the County Road 8 crossing has estimated traffic of 116 – 131 vehicles per day. Yet, they said, closing it would not have any significant impact on the operations of the local fire departments and EMS services.
The PUCO said they considered the amount of train traffic, the speed at which the trains travel through the crossing, the lack of flashing lights and gates, the poor sight distances, the unusual angle of approach, and the distance between the two sets of tracks to determine this crossing was ‘particularly dangerous.’
“The PUCO approves closing the crossing in order to continue to enhance and promote public safety at rail crossings throughout the state,” the statement affirmed.
When first contemplated, to help persuade Morrow County officials to consider approving closure of the crossing, CSX and the ORDC sent a letter in April of 2012 offering the county $5,000 of CSX funds – which could be used by the township for any purpose – and $15,000 ($7,500 from CSX and $7,500 from ORDC) which could be used for highway safety improvements approved by the Federal Highway Administration. They also advised if the offer were not accepted, the ORDC would most likely initiate flashing lights and a roadway gates improvement project at the crossing.
The Morrow County Commissioners declined the funds.
In a letter from CSX attorneys dated October 25, 2013, it was noted that the offer ‘was rejected by Morrow County Commissioners.’ The letter also stated the CR 8 crossing “inherently creates a hazardous situation,” identifying the crossing as “the second most hazardous crossing in Morrow County.”
So much for the ‘flashing lights and roadway gates.’ Morrow County Commissioners were advised in December of 2013 that CSX Transportation Inc. was filing a petition for closure of the crossing.
“The crossing services two of everything,” Commissioner Dick Miller said in a letter to the PUCO Attorney Examiner Bryce McKenney in April 2014. “Two school districts, fire departments, emergency squads as well as other enterprises in the area. CSX, like other railroads, conduct business as if they hold fee simple title to right of way while they demonstrate only prescriptive service right.”
Former Northmor Supt. Dr. Brent Winand submitted a letter in March 2014 to commissioners stating the school district’s opposition to the proposed closing. If the crossing closed, Winand estimated the added length of time to bus routes would be 29 hours per year. This is because the closing would result in two ‘dead ends’ for each bus route and would require potentially dangerous turnarounds.
Concerns were voiced at public hearings held in July of 2014 in Mt. Gilead and later the same day in Galion.
“There’s never been an accident there and, if you’re paying attention, there’s not a visibility problem there either,” contended Tom Whiston a year ago. “They don’t live here and use that crossing – we do.”
The PUCO says they are responsible for evaluating the safety of Ohio’s public grade crossings, citing since implementing these evaluations, the annual number of train-motor vehicle crashes in Ohio has decreased significantly, from 123 in 2001 to 76 in 2014.
The Ohio Rail Hotline, at (866) 814-RAIL (7245), provides Ohioans with a toll-free resource for all railroad crossing questions. For more information regarding these crossings, access the Ohio railroad information system website at http://gradecrossings.puco.ohio.gov/.
Reach Randa Wagner at 419-946-3010, ext. 1803 or on Twitter@MorrCoSentinel.