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Train Track Troubles

CSX to redesign tracks
through La Grange

Required changes
have merchants concerned

By Ruth Wright
Staff Writer

LA GRANGE, Ky. (February 2004) – Merchants here fear future economic growth along Main Street is on the verge of becoming threatened. Circumstances are about to change for those who either live or work near the CSX railroad tracks, changes that may also affect the entire county.

Oldham Cover 2-04

Kentucky edition cover.

CSX officials recently announced that upgrades are necessary to ensure proper safety measures along the tracks that bisect Main Street in downtown La Grange. CSX wants to replace the existing railroad tracks, in light of a recently passed regulation from the Federal Railroad Association that targets safety features.
Rick Garlock of the toy store Treasured Child is spearheading efforts between La Grange merchants, city council members, railroad officials, planning and zoning officials, and Oldham County citizens to decide on an option that is favorable to everyone. “I’m coordinating a lot of input from a lot of different people,” Garlock said.
“The railroad gave us three diverse options as a starting point,” said Garlock. Those involved were given the option to combine, mix or match any of the elements presented in the three plans. This creates an “infinite number of plans,” said Garlock.
Altered traffic flow and parking situations are key factors that business owners are taking into account. The first plan suggests keeping the tracks’ existing alignment, retaining diagonal parking on the North side of Main Street and eliminating all parking on the South side of Main Street.
The second plan suggests centering the tracks, which are currently aligned closer to the South side of Main Street. Parallel parking would be available on both sides of the street. Three feet of sidewalk space would need to be removed from the North side of the street.
For the third plan, a pedestrian plaza would be created on the eastern block of Main Street. There would be no traffic flow or parking in this area, with the possibility of CSX property east of La Grange being converted into a parking lot. Sidewalk cafes, trees and bushes could be added to this plan for beautification.
But as Bill Lammlein of WJL Designs pointed out, these are factors the citizens would be responsible for implementing. “CSX is only responsible for the track,” he said.
David Hall, a spokesman for CSX, said as long as the railroad requirements are met, “We don’t have a preference” (as to which plan is used). The proposals are concepts of possible solutions, but Hall said it is up to the community to decide the outcome.
Oldham County citizens and merchants will assemble options that will include costs for the project. Garlock said he would take these ideas to the city council, which in turn will balance the plans and take economic possibilities into account.
Architectural firm Scott, Klausing & Co. has developed graphics for the proposed track renovation plans. This company was chosen because “we are a local firm and have graphic capabilities in house,” said Fran Scott, who is handling the CSX project. CSX wanted to employ an architectural firm, he said, to provide illustrations so that all concerned parties could visibly understand the proposed ideas.
Having once been located on Main Street, CSX saw Scott, Klausing & Co. as “a natural choice,” said Garlock. Scott said the plans are not his firm’s conclusions. CSX defined the options, and Scott’s firm portrayed them through graphics.
Oldham County Mayor Elsie Carter said both sides are trying to cooperate with one another in an effort to keep citizens safe. She thinks it is ultimately up to Oldham County citizens and merchants to decide upon a workable plan. “Many voices make for better decisions,” she said. Effects are not only immediate but will be felt 25 years down the road, Carter said.
The railroad has been an integral part of Oldham County history since the first train puffed its way into the county in late 1850. A year later, the Lexington & Frankfort line took over the Oldham County lines, connecting Lexington to Louisville. This line consolidated with the Louisville & Frankfort line, becoming known as the Louisville, Cincinnati & Lexington Railroad Co., or “The Short Line.” In 1881, the Louisville & Nashville Railroad Co. (L&N) purchased the lines and operated the tracks until 1974. CSX then took over the track system.
It is this unique history and aesthetic appeal of the town that Lammlein feels is in peril of being altered. The railroad and Main Street have shared a distinct connection over the years, one that has become imbedded in the minds of citizens and visitors alike. Lammlein, who sits on the newly created La Grange Main Street Program, said none of the plans proposed so far “are acceptable to me.”
Lammlein’s major concern over this project revolves around the loss of sidewalk and parking space. “Most of the traffic along Main Street is pedestrian traffic,” he said.
With trains, vehicles and pedestrians all sharing the same space, concerns have been raised over the safety of pedestrians. Lammlein said that if sidewalks are eliminated, as suggested by the second plan, there is an increased danger of pedestrians being run over.
Hall said the proposed suggestions by CSX were intended to create a 12-foot corridor to separate the track from the road, with curbing on each side of the railroad to prevent vehicles from driving on the track.
“We’re at a point where the crossing needs to be renovated,” said Hall. He called this project a good opportunity for the city to address the FRA safety regulation. While there is no time limit as to when a plan must be chosen, Hall did say CSX has a target date of April.
The line running through Oldham County is considered a Class 1 track. Improvements would upgrade the tracks from Class 1 to Class 2 tracks. Many see this factor as a drawback because the speed at which trains move through town would increase from 10 mph to 20 mph.
“Even at 10 mph, my windows shake,” said Sue Kelley of Sue’s Emporium. Many in the community are concerned about vibration damage to the historical structures on Main Street and wonder if the number of trains will increase after renovation. Hall said this line is running at capacity, so any changes will be incremental in regard to capacity.
Kelley said that without parking on Main Street, “We’re in big trouble. There is no good place for a parking lot.”

La Grange Main Street

Photo by Don Ward

Shops on Main Street, La Grange, Ky.

Kelley has had a business on Main Street for two years, and said there are UPS trucks making deliveries every day to the shops. Many of the antique stores sell larger pieces of furniture, which clientele are not going to carry two to three blocks to their vehicles if purchased, she said.
If parking options are eliminated, Kelley feels trains will move more quickly through town. Although parking spaces may disappear, “We’re still here,” she said of the stores on Main Street.
Following upon the heels of a good Christmas shopping season, many business owners like Kelley are foreseeing altered traffic flow and lack of parking as major long-term concerns to commercial visibility. In the short time she’s been on Main Street, Kelley said she has already seen a difference in growth potential along Main Street.
Donna Kaelin, owner of Kaelin’s Trackside Restaurant, which is located west of the main crossing, said she didn’t think her business would be as affected by the track renovation. She is, however, concerned over the issue of speed. She pointed out that many people think they can beat a train when crossing the tracks. If a train moves at a slower speed, these vehicles have time to get out of the way. If not, the faster speed may contribute to more accidents.
There were three to four accidents within the last year along the tracks. While there were no fatalities, safety measures need to be ensured, CSX officials say. With 28-30 trains passing through town within a 24-hour period, there is a potential danger for more accidents, Garlock said.
Crossing guards will be installed at all intersections to assist with pedestrian safety, said city council member Kevin Woosley. Ideally, a section will be dedicated strictly for the trains to prevent vehicles from driving on the tracks.
Crossing guards will be the biggest cost, said Woosley. While there are no set figures yet, CSX will not fund the entire project. The state will pick up some of the cost, he said.
To defray the city’s cost for this renovation project, some crossings at lesser-used intersections may be closed, said Woosley. If a crossing is closed, two free crossing gates will be given to the city. Public safety remains the key point, Woosley said.

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