O'Fallon Progress

CSX railroad questions remain, graffiti on new overpass

A local O’Fallon school bus crosses the CSX Railroad grade crossing after coming to a complete stop just before the South Oak and West First streets intersection.
A local O’Fallon school bus crosses the CSX Railroad grade crossing after coming to a complete stop just before the South Oak and West First streets intersection. Robyn L. Kirsch

With CSX Transportation filing for discontinuance of the railroad lines between Caseyville and Flora in October, some questions still remain concerning the railroad track grade crossings and the Venita Drive overpass.

For starters, do buses and other traffic still have to stop at the eight railroad crossings in O’Fallon? Another question, when does the discontinuation go into effect? And, lastly what’s the city going to do about the graffiti that has already found a home under the $6.5 million overpass completed in the last year?

Since filing for an exemption with the Illinois Commerce Commission on Oct. 6, CSX published a public notice in the Belleville News-Democrat on Nov. 13 stating that on or about Nov. 20, the company intended to file an application for discontinuance with the Surface Transportation Board in Washington, D.C.

“CSX notified this office of its decision to temporarily take a portion of its track out of service due to the lack of rail business,” said Mike Stead, ICC rail safety program administrator.

CSX notified this office of its decision to temporarily take a portion of its track out of service due to the lack of rail business. CSX’s decision also affects all public highway-rail grade crossings between Caseyville and Flora. CSX intended to take all existing automatic warning devices out of service while rail service is discontinued. In October, this office notified CSX that ICC Staff took no exception to the modifications the company proposed for the crossings. A copy of that was sent back to CSX ... Illinois Department of Transportation, St. Clair County and the communities of Caseyville, Fairview Heights and O’Fallon.

Mike Stead, ICC rail safety program administrator

Stead went on to explain, “CSX’s decision also affects all public highway-rail grade crossings between Caseyville and Flora. CSX intended to take all existing automatic warning devices out of service while rail service is discontinued. In October, this office notified CSX that ICC Staff took no exception to the modifications the company proposed for the crossings. A copy of that was sent back to CSX ... Illinois Department of Transportation, St. Clair County and the communities of Caseyville, Fairview Heights and O’Fallon.”

In August, CSX abruptly closed the rail line running through O’Fallon, stating to the City of O’Fallon staff that the line is closed temporarily and provided no information on their intentions when or if it may be reopened, Walter Denton, O’Fallon city administrator, said in late November in his online blog.

The discontinuance will be in full effect as of the second week of January.

Melanie Cost, a CSX representative, said with the discontinuance of service on the line, CSX has placed signs over the cross-bucks, also known as circular warning signs, at the grade crossings indicating that the line is inactive.

“As well as (we’re) deactivating and, in some cases covering, the crossing lights. These warning signals will not be removed while the discontinuance is in effect,” Cost said in an e-mail. “We will continue to maintain the crossing surface for the safety of the motorists using the crossings. Determinations about how motorists should act around crossings are the jurisdiction of the local or state transportation authority.”

According to Illinois statute, certain vehicles, specifically school buses and vehicles transporting hazardous materials, are required by law to stop at all railroad grade crossings whether railroad lines are active or inactive. The Illinois Hazardous Materials Transportation Act plays a role on a state level, but some federal statutes require it as well.

We will have to paint over it with gray paint to match up with the existing pier, but right now the temperatures haven’t been ideal for the type of paint we use, (which) is temperature sensitive. I was made aware of it in early October and went to take a look at it, but it’s something we will probably do in spring when it warms up and because of the temperature requirements we want to make sure it adheres to the surface properly.

Jeff Taylor, O’Fallon Public Works Director

O’Fallon District 90 Superintendent Carrie Hruby said she hasn’t heard much of a buzz about a concern with buses stopping at crossings in town or not in lieu of the inactive status of the rail line.

“I saw a bus stop (as it should) the other day,” Hruby said.

Stead weighed in as well on traffic stopping or not. Buses? — yes; hazardous waste transport vehicles? — yes. But, other traffic like ordinary citizens crossing are not required to stop, but are encouraged by local law enforcement.

“While rail service on the CSX line has been temporarily suspended and the crossing warning devices are out of service, state law still requires school buses to stop at all public grade crossings. That will remain in effect until, or unless, CSX decides to permanently abandon the track,” Stead said. “CSX has indicated that the current suspension of service is only temporary. Therefore, this office approved the crossing modifications for a period of 24 months. If CSX should not seek to resume train traffic and place the crossing warning devices back in service with 24 months from the date of my letter (Oct. 15, 2015), CSX will need to file a formal petition for a hearing, before a Commission Administrative Law Judge, seeking permission to install EXEMPT signs and to formalize permanent changes at each crossing by a Commission Order.”

At a hearing, staff may recommend additional permanent changes, up to and including the complete removal of the track and warning devices to fully eliminate the crossing, as provided under the Illinois Commercial Transportation Law and the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices at abandoned crossings, Stead explained.

Venita Drive Overpass graffiti

In October, O’Fallon Police Department Captain James Cavins said calls were made to the department to report damage to property on the city-owned Venita Drive Overpass pillars.

“We are aware of it and we’ve had people call in on that, it’s been there — I don’t want to say quite some time, but it’s not new,” Cavins said. “Once we get those types of reports we immediately send them to public works (city staff) and then it’s on their timeline of when they can take over those.”

Public Works Director Jeff Taylor said in November the graffiti on the underside of the overpass isn’t of high priority now, but will be addressed in the spring 2016.

“We will have to paint over it with gray paint to match up with the existing pier, but right now the temperatures haven’t been ideal for the type of paint we use, (which) is temperature sensitive,” Taylor explained. “I was made aware of it in early October and went to take a look at it, but it’s something we will probably do in spring when it warms up and because of the temperature requirements we want to make sure it adheres to the surface properly.”

We are aware of it and we’ve had people call in on that, it’s been there — I don’t want to say quite some time, but it’s not new. Once we get those types of reports we immediately send them to public works (city staff) and then it’s on their timeline of when they can take over those.

James Cavis, O’Fallon Police Department Captain, said in October

“Since it’s the underside of the overpass we aren’t too worried about it right now,” Taylor said. “I’m not sure (if the temperature conditions were ideal or not in October) because we knew the police were investigating it still.”

No estimate on cost of labor and materials has been calculated at this time, Taylor said.

“They’ve put up signs and gates to try and deter people from doing it,” Taylor said.

One “no trespassing” sign has been put up and the gate is to prohibit vehicle traffic other than service vehicles on the dirt road leading under the overpass, not around the pillars.

Graffiti on the CSX overpass crossing over Scott-Troy Road in O’Fallon is St. Clair County’s jurisdiction, not the city’s, according to Taylor.

The overpass was a project that took years of planning and traffic studies, but ended up being completed after many phases last year.

All in all, the overpass project was paid for through a combination of 60 percent state grant at $4,095,941; 35 percent from the City of O’Fallon at $2,389,299; and, a 5 percent contribution from CSX at $341,328.

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