As I’ve previously reported, a self-appointed task force of Lakeland business and government officials have met with CSX officials at least twice. The first meeting was private, and the second wasn’t exactly “viewer friendly.”
Evidently, the group sent a letter to CSX detailing questions that were addressed by CSX in the second meeting. CSX recently sent a letter to three members of that group, Mr. Tony Delgado, Deputy City Manager, Lakeland, FL; Ms. Anne Furr, Executive Director Lakeland Downtown Development Authority; and Ms. Kathleen Munson, President, Lakeland Area Chamber Commerce.
The July 6, 2007 letter was recently published as an image on the Winter Haven Chamber site (pdf). Since images are not indexed, I took it upon myself to convert the image to text. You can find the full text of the letter at the Polk County Rail Hub.
Here are the high points (language directly from the letter is quoted, my comments are in plain text. Italics and bold are also mine, and not present in the original letter.):
1) Can the trains go faster through Lakeland? “Track geometry of the north leg of the connection track where CSX’s track from Vitis/Stokes connects to the A-Line, physically constrains speed over that connection track to 25 mph. That speed applies to the entire train as long as any part of the train is moving on the connection. Thus trains moving from the Vitis Line to the A-Line or vice versa, will not to exceed 25 mph through Lakeland’s downtown.”
“In addition, although there is no local rail- served industries in the immediate downtown Lakeland area, CSX “switcher” locomotives are serving nearby industries and shuttling between those industries and the local CSX yard. The local train must move at slower speeds due to the proximity of those industries and the nature of the work.”
2) Why do trains stop downtown? CSX hasn’t researched that issue, but “For safety and operational reasons, trains occasionally stop or move slowly due to other train traffic. There are 2 trains that change crews just outside of downtown Lakeland. These trains tend to move at slower speeds as they prepare to stop for the crew-change point. Once the Winter Haven terminal is open, the crew-change points will move from Lakeland to Winter Haven, which should further reduce the cause for trains to stop in the downtown corridor.”
CSX would like to remind the city to let CSX know when they remove crossing signals. “As we also discussed, it is important that CSX and the City coordinate and communicate interrelated activities in the downtown limits. The recent incident in which a train blocked crossings might have been avoided if together we could have planned for the work being done at the New York Avenue crossing that rendered the warning devices inoperable during construction.”
What? CSX doesn’t already require cities to let the railroad know when signals are disabled? That just doesn’t sound right.
3) What will CSX do to reduce the stopping problem downtown? CSX thinks the stopped trains are due to unforeseen conditions. However: “In addition, CSXT plans to increase track capacity on the S Line in Florida, a segment of which runs through downtown Lakeland. Most of that additional capacity will be in the form of long, passing sidings that allow trains to operate more efficiently through optimum ‘meets and passes.’ Two of these sidings are currently contemplated for the area around Lakeland.”
That sounds like a plan.
4) The City is researching Quiet Zones. Will CSX help with review and funding? Before you can have a Quiet Zone, you have to have the proper crossing equipment. “Upgrading the warning devices so that they comply with this FRA “constant warning” standard for Quiet Zones could run between $100,000 and $200,000 per crossing.”
Ouch. We have six crossings in downtown Lakeland.
But that doesn’t mean CSX won’t help. “CSX will also commit its available resources, including engineering expertise, in an effort to reach an acceptable solution. This is an area that will require continued evaluation and concentrated discussion among the task force members in a smaller working setting.”
Of course, you can’t expect CSX to commit to paying completely for the upgrades. Construction around railroad tracks can be expensive.
5) See question 3.
6) ” Can the hours of operation be adjusted to avoid local rush hours and high traffic density time periods?” That was the full question. CSX’s answer was nice and soft; of course the answer was no.
7) What are the real numbers for the expected increase in train traffic? According to CSX, the current average is 16 per 24 hour period. Move the rail line out of Orlando and 2 coal trains will start going through Lakeland. Add the Winter Haven project and 2 automotive trains will travel through Lakeland. Right now, there are 2 intermodal trains going from Orlando to Tampa.
“Once the Orlando facility is closed and the new terminal operational in Winter Haven, the net effect of intermodal trains through Lakeland will be unchanged. ” But, won’t those two trains have to go from Winter Haven to Tampa? Or will they bypass Lakeland to go from the north past Lakeland into Tampa?
8) Is CSX going to upgrade the tracks and crossings in Lakeland? No need as they meet federal standards, but CSX plans to build two additional passing sidings somewhere in Lakeland.
9) Are there any alternatives other than going through downtown Lakeland? “CSXT’s main line runs through Lakeland, and the costs of relocating it would likely be prohibitive. The former Coleman Subdivision that extended from Wildwood to Auburndale has been severed and is not a viable option.”
10 “Current train lengths are approximately 7,500 feet. CSX states the optimal length to be 10,000 feet. Can train lengths be modified to allow traffic to move at a greater pace along the S Line and through the heavily populated areas? ”
Ah, a key question. This is right up CSX’s alley. “Train length varies widely due to business needs. On many trains, CSXT can add cars at almost no additional cost. That keeps fuel consumption, emissions and prices to our customers down on a per ton.”
As I’ve stated before, we hear about additional trains, but nothing about the total length of train traffic through Lakeland. If you have more trains, and all trains are longer, then crossing wait times will increase.
CSX adds, “At the same time, the track capacity improvements on the S Line will promote faster, more efficient train operations, more than offsetting longer trains.” But, CSX also said the current length of trains is why Vitis bound or A-Line bound trains must slow through Lakeland.
This is simple mathematics. All we need are firm numbers.
11) “Would CSX be willing to assist the City in conducting a downtown impact study?” CSX is “always willing to furnish information and provide expertise for studies commissioned by public bodies.” But there is a request, “We would appreciate the opportunity to comment on the scope of such a study for best results, and how the information will be interpreted and used.”
I see CSX wishing to narrow the scope. They don’t want a study that ranges from Lakeland to Jacksonville. But do they want to comment on “how the information will be interpreted and used?”
Hood finishes with the hope the next meeting will be a “dedicated working group to address specific actions.” I do think that’s a good idea, with the caveat the meeting isn’t private. A media member or two wouldn’t hinder their work one bit.
As I stated above, the original letter image is online at the Winter Haven Chamber site, the full plain text is at Polk County Rail Hub, and all quotes from the letter have been indicated.