A renewed push is underway to close the railroad crossing on Old Brandenburg Road.
Off and on since 2009, representatives of the Paducah & Louisville Railroad have asked the Leitchfield City Council to close the crossing due to its steep grade and poor visibility.
Faced with complaints from residents in the area, the city decided instead to post signs warning of the steep grade and barring trucks. But even with signs posted at both ends of the street, semis continue to get stuck on the crossing — including three in the last three weeks.
Robert Cox, P&L’s manager of safety and security, attended the Monday, Aug. 20, city council meeting with state and federal railroad officials to once again request a closure.
Tom Drake, a crossing/trespasser regional manager for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration, said the crossing is the second-worst he’s seen in Kentucky.
He termed it “a disaster waiting to happen,” and said while he realizes closing it could inconvenience some people “if you have a collision there, who knows what can happen.”
Cox said the railroad probably has 800 crossings statewide, and this is the only one where trucks consistently get hung up.
During the last three strandings, Cox said, the railroad had to stop four trains — and phone calls from the Leitchfield Police Department were the only warnings they had of the brewing trouble. In fact, during the latest stranding, a coal train was just around the curve when the railroad was able to get it stopped.
Railroad, transportation officials and city leaders are especially concerned about the chances of a train hauling hazardous chemicals hitting a stranded truck. That could trigger a chemical spill that would force the evacuations of most of the city’s residents.
Kentucky Transportation Cabinet railroad safety coordinator Rick Haydon pointed out the state has some funding — $7,500 — available as an incentive to close the crossing.
Mayor William H. Thomason has said the city doesn’t want to close the crossing without giving residents another way in and out – possibly a widened Embry Brothers Drive. Monday, he asked the P&L representatives what financial help they could offer the city for buying property and relocating utilities to widen the street to handle two-way traffic.
Ann Huff, who lives in the area, addressed the council to say she’s not in favor of closing the crossing, which she said has been in place since the 1860s.
“Anything could derail” at any point along the line, Huff said, adding that she didn’t believe the crossing was any more dangerous than others in the city.
That prompted an exchange with Drake, who noted the railroad tracks were originally laid along the ridge to take advantage of natural drainage.
Technological advances from steam engines to today’s diesel locomotives, and from horses and buggies to today’s cars and trucks, are setting up a potentially deadly encounter, he said.
“That crossing as it sets now is dangerous,” Drake said.
Huff suggested the city work to lower trains’ speeds through town — an option city council members said isn’t possible. She also suggested posting a “no trucks” sign on the north end of Old Brandenburg Road to warn off semi drivers.
One reason drivers head onto the crossing — despite the warning signs — is GPS routing. Council member Leon Shaw said with trucking companies remotely monitoring whether drivers stay on GPS-designated routes, drivers may be too afraid to go off the route.
Council member Kelly Stevenson, who had a relative killed at the crossing about 50 years ago, said if the city is able to widen Embry Brothers Drive, he’ll put a motion on the table to close the crossing.
Warning signs aren’t the answer, he said — “we need to be proactive.”
In other action the council:
* Approved the second reading of the 2012 property tax rate ordinance. Following the recommendations of its budget committee, the council voted to keep the real property tax rate at 11.7 cents per $100 assessed property value.
The rate is expected to generate about $283,262 for the city, an increase of about $8,355, due to increased property values. The city’s 2012 assessed value of all real properties is $242,104,261. The personal property tax rate will drop from 16.1 cents to 12.7 cents per $100 assessed property value. The city will still see more money, though, due to rising assessments — an estimated $102,800, roughly $3,775 more than in 2011.
The motor vehicle tax will remain unchanged at 12 cents per $100 assessed value.
* Learned 126 kids have signed up for the new fall kickball league, which is expected to run through the end of September. Teams will play and practice at the Wilkey ballfields, with games expected to be held Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. They will likely play a 10-game schedule.