Butler County Engineer
Greg Wilkens has had enough of the railroad and is firing back.
A long history of railroads disregarding local jurisdictional
regulations and jeopardizing public safety came to a head recently
when CSX rail crews embarked on a three week operation to repair
twelve crossings on county and township roads along a rail line
from Hamilton to College Corner. The project resulted in a rash
of crossing closures without notification, non-closure of crossings
on dates given, and cutting off access to residents of dead end
This is nothing new
for CSX or the other railroads that run through Butler County,
but often crossing repairs and replacements involve two or three
versus twelve at a time in such close proximity to each other.
Wilkens wants to set
the record straight: "Railroad crossing repairs are not
performed by any local agency. These are performed by the railroads
exclusively. It is their responsibility to obtain a permit, provide
proper notification of when they intend to close a road at one
of their crossings, and stick to the time frame given. They are
doing none of this."
Officials from the
Butler County Engineer's Office often receive complaints from
frustrated motorists about random and unannounced road closings
at rail crossings. These issues become life-threatening when
emergency responders are caught off guard or homeowners on dead
end roads have their access cut off, both of which have occurred
recently here in Butler County.
The problem with the
railroads, and CSX in particular, is that they either fail to
provide notification of when they close a crossing or, more commonly,
provide dates to which they do not adhere. "We send out
a news release with the closing date that they provide and no
one from the railroad shows up to perform the work. If a life
squad runs an alternate route that takes five or ten minutes
longer because they were told the road would be closed, that's
a problem," said Fred Stitsinger, Butler County Engineer's
Office Administrative Deputy, Hanover Township Trustee, and Hanover
Township Assistant Fire Chief. "Disruption of emergency
services is a very serious threat to public safety but CSX apparently
The BCEO emails road
closing and opening information to all affected agencies, emergency
personnel, school districts, and the media. This information
is also posted on the BCEO web site. In the event of an extended
closure, letters are delivered to residents in the closing area.
BCEO sign crews also post road closings notification signs at
the closing site with dates and web site address so motorists
can get more details.
"All of this is
certainly important to having informed motorists and safe commutes,
but more critically it is imperative that emergency responders,
fire and life squad, are made aware of closings so that they
can take the quickest alternate route," Wilkens said. "When
minutes and seconds count, they can't afford to drive up to a
surprise road closing and then have to turn around and find another
way. It's also important in terms of school bus routes, bus stops,
and transporting young children."
Off Access to Dead End Roads
Perhaps one of the
most unthinkable acts by the railroad was actually cutting off
access to residents on the dead end portions of Darrtown Road
and Hussey Road. In both cases residents with known health issues
were at risk, according to Stitsinger. When Hanover Township
trustees filed a complaint with CSX they received a terse response
stating little more than that the crossings were closed for repairs
and have since reopened. The letter was signed "Sincerely,
TellCSX Team." (Click here
to see the CSX response to Hanover Township.)
Stitsinger also pointed
out that at one point CSX rail crews illegally dumped large piles
of gravel in the middle of Morman Road and Decamp Road. Nobody
was notified, no warning signs or cones were in place, and the
gray piles could not be seen at night until motorists were literally
Fires Off Letter to CSX Chairman & President
Wilkens has decided
to take the issue to the very top. He has sent a letter to Michael
J. Ward, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of CSX
Transportation, Inc. expressing his concern about CSX operations
and denying the railroad permission to close any further crossings
on county and township roads until CSX officials meet with him
to discuss these issues.
In the letter Wilkens
states "As a public official I have a responsibility to
the citizens of our County that I intend to uphold. Let this
serve as formal notice that should CSX close any future railroad
crossings without obtaining a permit from us, close a crossing
on a date other than that specified and agreed upon by both CSX
and the BCEO, or fail to close a crossing on the date specified
and agreed upon by CSX and the BCEO, we will take measures as
provided by the full extent of the law which may include citation
or arrest." Wilkens cites sections of the Ohio Revised Code
supporting his position.
Wilkens also suggests
that the railroad's disregard for safety beyond their own rails
reflects an historically pervasive problem within railroad culture
and accuses them of bullying local agencies into acquiescence.
"The railroads, and CSX in particular, have a well-reputed
habit of doing whatever they want whenever they want because
they dismiss anyone who challenges them or bury them in legal
paper work. They simply don't care. Period."
Wilkens admitted that
these latest incidents touched him off directly on the heels
of another situation involving CSX. The Engineer's Office has
been trying to perform emergency repairs to a bridge on River
Ridge Lane in Fairfield Township. The structure spans a little
used CSX rail line, is the only link to twelve homes on a dead
end portion of Canal Road, and was in need of immediate repairs.
"CSX ignored our urgent requests to facilitate emergency
repairs and when we finally got them to react we were promptly
served with a bill for $87,906 to supposedly cover their expenses,
even though the bridge is under the jurisdiction of the County,
not CSX," said Wilkens. "This shameless attempt to
take advantage of our taxpayers also demonstrates the railroad's
lack of regard for this bridge's safety and those who use it."
Noting this and CSX's
ongoing failure to comply with local regulations Wilkens states
in his letter that "CSX has demonstrated a persistent unwillingness
to work with us in any regards. Your dysfunctional and unprofessional
manner of doing business is not welcome in Butler County."
"It is our intent
to bring some of these issues to light by making them public,"
Wilkens pointed out for this press release. "For far too
long the railroads have gotten away with doing whatever they
want to the detriment of public safety. It's time to make them