Rail line revival enters final year

by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – The timetable for restoration of the Plymouth-Sheboygan Falls rail line calls for completion of the run by the end of next summer.

That was the report presented Thursday at a stakeholders’ meeting for the project held at Plymouth City Hall.

“It’s going to be a busy 12 months coming up,” Ken Lucht, director of government relations for the Wisconsin and Southern Railroad, told the crowd of four dozen or so people.

Ben Guido of Via Rail Logistics, the firm managing the $19.1 million restoration project, outlined the timeline for the remainder of the effort to restore the line which has been dormant for more than two decades.

A petition has been made to the state Office of the Commissioner of Railroads to review road crossings along the rail line, according to Guido.

“The OCR will make a determination of what is needed for crossing protection, what safety protection is ordered,” he explained. That process will include public input and a public hearing before the commissioner, he assured the audience.

The next step in the work on the rail line will be the demolition of the existing outdated rail, which Guido said should be completed by the end of the year.

“There is a lot of rail that is not sufficient for today’s railroad traffic,” Guido noted.

He said all work would be done within the railroad right-of-way and any removed material - rails, ties, etc. - would be hauled away immediately and not stockpiled on site.

Contracts for track and bridge rehabilitation and crossing construction will be let over the winter, with that work scheduled to begin as soon as possible after the first of the year. Via Rail’s timeline showed all of that work completed by the end of July, 2014.

That work will begin in Plymouth and continue east to Sheboygan Falls, Guido added.

The railroad representatives were questioned closely by government officials and residents living near the line during the meeting about crossings and crossing construction.

Ben Meehan of WSOR, responding to a question from Plymouth Public Works Director Bill Immich, said a typical crossing would result in a street being closed two days, three at the most.

“We’re not looking to close all crossings at once,” Guido added. “Our plan is to work with the communities to establish detour routes that work.

Sheboygan Falls Town Chairman Steve Bauer asked if crossing work on county and town roads could be done separately for safety reasons.

“We’re very flexible and work with the local governments,” Meehan responded. “We won’t do all the crossings at the same time. We’re here to rebuild the railroad, not interfere with what is necessary for communities to survive. We coordinate with local governments and agencies.”

Questioned by several residents of the Tall Grass condominiums about what kind of crossings would be installed, Lucht said, “That decision is out of the purview of WSOR or Via Rail.”

That determination is made by the state Commissioner of Railroads, Jeff Plale, after a public hearing, Lucht said.

“Each crossing has a different dynamic and each one does have to be analyzed differently,” Lucht explained.

As for whether trains would have to blow whistles for crossings within city limits, Lucht said that would depend on the type of crossing ordered.

Quiet zone crossings are possible, where no whistle warning is required, but they require several criteria, including supplementary safety features such as median lanes and safety gates, according to Lucht.

Quiet zones, of which there are more than 100 in Wisconsin, are regulated by the Federal Railroad Administration, Lucht said.

Another concern raised was over the number of trains that would run on the line.

“Train schedules are driven by a lot of variables and obviously customer demand is one of those,” Lucht told the meeting. Service on the east-west Plymouth-Falls spur would be coordinated with service on the north-south Saukville-Kiel main line that runs through Plymouth.

He did say the expectation is for two trains a week to start, although he could not say what time of day those trains would run.

Meehan added that the trains would not run at more than 25 mph.

“This is a branch line, a dead-end,” Plymouth railroad coordinator Jerry Thompson added. “You’re not going to have through trains on this line.”

Frank Huntington of the DOT assured those present that the rail line, which is owned by the state and leased to WSOR to operate, would not be abandoned unless WSOR ceases to operate.

He added the restored rail line is being built to DOT standards and the department will require WSOR to maintain and continue to operate the line.


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