5/3/2007 12:00:00 PM Editorial Work will smooth crossings, city-rail relationships
While enjoying the economic benefits, cities have had an uneasy relationship with railroads ever since the Iron Horse first puffed its way into town. In frontier days, problems ranged from whistles scaring livestock to coal smoke staining laundry on the line.
Today, the issues include horns, not whistles, riling citizens, not horses; the need for adequate warning signals and other safety measures; and bone-shaking road and street crossings.
So it's good to see Indiana Rail Road and the City of Robinson making some progress on improving the long-neglected places where the city's streets meet the company's rails. The inconvenience of partial street closings over the next two or three months will be worth it, if they result in crossings that don't transform your vehicle into an auto-parts store on the fly.
The difference such improvements can make can be seen, of course, at the Cross and Jackson Street crossings, which were renovated a few years ago and are still holding up well. While INRD considers the work - at $25,000 to $50,000 per crossing - an investment to improve its train speeds through town, local motorists reap the benefits.
Besides the practical effects, the work will certainly put the railroad in a more positive light with citizens. And it may indirectly go toward easing some of the ill feelings stirred up last summer and fall when the railroad and the village of Palestine engaged in a very public debate which ended with the village keeping INRD from blocking any of its crossings there.
While the improvements to Robinson crossings may be accompanied by permanently blocking the Franklin Street crossing, that's probably a move we can live with. Streets such as Jones, Myers and Walters once crossed the railroad, but have been closed for several years, causing few apparent problems with traffic flow. And of the crossings that remain open, Franklin Street would clearly be the best choice to close. While it will be an inconvenience to some degree, there are plenty of ways to access the businesses and homes in the area in case of emergencies.
It would be nice, though, if the city and the railroad put some thought and care into the closing to make the site a little more attractive than just a plain steel barricade, since it is a more "open" and higher-visibility location than some of the crossings that were blocked in residential areas.
There's not much that can be done on the north side of the Franklin crossing, unless the city would want to block entry to Railroad Street on that end. But there could be some options on the south side for at least putting a little distance - and maybe a little landscaping or green space - between the new end of the street and the barricade.
It's important, of course, to have plenty of safety built into the dead-ends, with reflectors, signage and heavy barriers. But while a blocked grade crossing probably can never be made too pretty, maybe the city and the railroad can work on making it less ugly.