City working with rail line buyers

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Plans includes replacing signals with stop signs

By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

The city of Vandalia took the first step on Monday to working with a local resident to revive the local rail line as a way of boosting local economic development efforts.

If it follows through with that action, stop signs will take the place of rail crossing signals at four locations, including one of the busiest intersections in town.
Acting on the recommendation of two of its committees, the city council OK’d the drafting of an ordinance amendment that would replace railroad crossing signals along the Vandalia Railroad line with stop signs.
Charles Barenfanger approached the city about that action, explaining that he is working with Agracel on the purchase of the local north-south rail line from Pioneer Railcorp.
“We have a list of things that we need to take care of before an agreement can be consummated,” said Barenfanger, who had met earlier in the evening with the council’s streets committee and railroad/economic development committee.
On that list, he said, is replacing crossing signals with stop signs at the intersection of Randolph and Eighth streets, on Jefferson Street, on Fillmore Street and on Janett Avenue.
The action will “save a lot of money, but it mainly decreases liability,” Barenfanger said, mentioning a lawsuit that resulted from an auto accident at the Janett Avenue intersection.
He said that the federal agency governing rail traffic supports such action “due to the amount of traffic” along the local line, said Barenfanger, who currently operates rail lines in Effingham in Greenville.
Other factors include the speed of the train on the local line, the speed on roads at crossings and the condition of the crossings, he said.
Also a factor, Barenfanger said, is that rust builds up on the signals due to their limited use, causing them to not work properly.
He told the council that Graham Packaging, which is moving toward the closure of its Vandalia operations, is basically the last customer along the rail line. Purina Mills, Barenfanger said, is using the line for “10 to 17 cars a year.”
In the past, users of the rail line also included Witte Hardware and Laclede Steel.
Barenfanger said that if rail line purchase goes through, he and Agracel would be working with the committee to work on luring industry along the rail line.
In fact, he said, they are already working on getting Enbridge Energy to store pipe for its Southern Access Extension Pipeline Project along the Vandalia rail line. Enbridge is currently planning to store the pipe in Taylorville.
This type of agreement, Barenfanger said, is needed to help fund the rail line purchase and operations.
While he hopes to work with the city on local economic development, Barenfanger said the rail line project “shouldn’t be any expense to the city.”
The city purchased a little more than 2 miles of track for local rail service after the rail was abandoned by Illinois Gulf Central Railroad in 1981.
A couple of years later, Barenfanger and his brother, Walt, signed an agreement with the city to operate the local rail line, serving local industry along the line by hauling rail cars to and from the east-west Conrail line that goes through Vandalia.