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* News Release *
 
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
For Immediate Release

COUNTY ENGINEER TAKES AIM AT CSX RAILROAD
Says Railroad Endangers Citizens, Bullies Communities
Puts CSX On Notice for Irresponsible Practices

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 roads.

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 doesn't care."

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."

CSX Cuts 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 upon it.

Wilkens 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 accountable."

  • Read Wilkens' entire letter to CSX Chairman Michael J. Ward here.

# # #

For more information contact:

Chris Petrocy, BCEO Public Information Supervisor
Greg Wilkens, P.E., P.S., Butler County Engineer
Phone 513.867.5744 • Fax 513.867.5849


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