Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Railroad promises to fix crossings in Bossier City

, La.

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Kansas City Southern is promising action after receiving complaints from the Bossier City, La., Council that its railroad crossings are damaging vehicles, according to local newspapers.

"We acted on issues in your letters quickly and want to be responsive to local concerns," Kevin McIntosh, assistant vice president for state and local relations for Kansas City Southern, says in a letter to Bossier City Mayor Lorenz "Lo" Walker.

The crossings the City Council agreed most need of immediate repairs might be familiar to some motorists: Benton at Shed roads, Shed Road just south of Interstate 220 and Stockwell Road just south of Summerville Lane.

Bossier City, like many other local governments with multiple railroad crossings in their limits, often has had a cool relationship with railway companies. At the heart of the issue is the companies' ownership of rights of way to carry its trains granted by the state or federal government that trump the power of city and parish governments to control property in the city limits. Even though you might be driving on a public road, a railway crossing is the railroad companies' private right of way.

Commuters angry about damage done to their vehicles when crossing the tracks rarely understand the nuance, however, and over the years have directed their ire at City Council members. Some of the crossings, such as on Benton Road, often are several inches lower than the road and have a sharp wall of asphalt where the road picks up again that can scrape - or possibly even rip off - a low bumper.

At the request of newly elected Bossier City Councilman James "Chubby" Knight at a council meeting two weeks ago, Walker agreed to send letters to Kansas City Southern asking that improvements be made to at least the three aforementioned intersections. Because the tracks are the railroad's right of way, it is the railway's responsibility to maintain the crossings. But if the city were to make improvements to the tracks themselves, suddenly the city would be liable for all damage caused by those crossings in the future.

"If you go out there, KCS will tell you everything you want to hear and laugh as soon as you get in the parking lot," Councilman David Jones said at the council meeting two weeks ago.

Though the council has long lamented what it says is the railroad companies' poor record when it comes to responding to city requests, Jones' words and the letters were enough to prompt Kansas City Southern to write back quickly, saying it would make improvements. Two of the crossings - at Shed and Stockwell roads - are owned by a third party, Louisiana Southern Railroad, which leases Kansas City Southern tracks. But McIntosh wrote in his letter to Walker that Kansas City Southern has contacted Louisiana Southern and begun "developing a repair plan."

Among the improvements commuters can expect to be made at those crossings, which Knight said he believes are the city's worst, are a combination of timber and asphalt crossings Kansas City Southern says will help solve the problem, adding, however, that it would be receptive if the city wished to chip in for some of the costs.

"Upon receipt of your letters Kansas City Southern began a full field assessment of the condition of the crossings," McIntosh wrote. "KCS also began researching, among many other things, crossing maintenance responsibility, cost sharing and possible timelines to complete the necessary repairs in a cost-efficient manner, with low impact on traffic flow."

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