Janesville54.9°

Residents rally to replace rails

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Stacy Vogel
December 19, 2007
— Ten months after one of the worst local derailments in recent memory, Dave Markson and his neighbors still catch their breath when they hear a train coming.

“All the years we lived here, we never paid any attention to the train,” said Markson, whose home abuts the Wisconsin & Southern Railroad line in Fulton Township. “Now when the train comes through, we all stop and look at it, you know, with our hearts in our mouths, hoping it doesn’t derail.”


But Markson and his neighbors didn’t just sit in fear waiting for the next derailment. They took action, launching a letter-writing campaign to local and state officials asking them to support a plan to improve the rail.


Now, their actions might lead to the largest improvement project in Wisconsin & Southern Railroad’s history, a railroad official said—provided the company gets funding from the state.


Wisconsin & Southern formed plans to replace the rail between Madison and Milton after successive derailments in Fulton Township. The first, Feb. 16, knocked 14 cars off the track and cost the company $1.2 million.


On April 21, another seven cars went off the track.


Shortly after the derailments, the company announced a plan to replace the 90-pound, 80-year-old rail between Milton and Madison with new, 115-pound rail.


But Wisconsin & Southern needs state assistance to make the plan a reality. While the railroad pays for track maintenance, the state pays 80 percent of upgrade costs. The remaining 20 percent is split between the rail company and local governments.


The project would require $5 million from the state in 2008 for phase one: laying 40,000 new railroad ties. The second phase, actually replacing the rails, would require another $10.4 million in 2009.


Markson estimates about 20 local letter writers lobbied the state to leave $22 million for railroads intact in the contentious budget proceedings this fall. They got the town of Fulton, the city of Edgerton and their state representatives, Sen. Judy Robson and Rep. Kim Hixson, involved, too.


“We protected the money when we were cutting a lot of programs,” said Robson, who served as Senate majority leader at the time.


Now, Wisconsin & Southern wants to make sure it gets a share of that money. It submitted a grant application months ago, even though applications aren’t due until February.


Ken Lucht, a spokesman for Wisconsin & Southern, said he’s confident the state will approve the money for phase one. The company hopes to start replacing the ties in late spring.


“We’ve already been talking with vendors about delivery of the ties,” he said.


Phase two funding is a different story. The company is asking for twice as much money for that part of the project, and the funding decision is more than a year and a half away.


The company plans to start replacing the rail in spring 2009, even though the railroad funding for 2009-11 won’t be decided until at least three months later.


“That’s a big gamble we take,” Lucht said. “But it’s better than shutting the line down and halting new commerce coming into Wisconsin.”


And you can bet Fulton residents will keep an eye on the process.


“They’re moving along slowly,” Markson said. “I wish it was faster, but I guess sometimes you can’t move things along any faster.”


About the proposal

-- Phase one would start in late spring if the state approves funding. Wisconsin & Southern would replace 40,000 rail ties, upgrade 40 railroad crossings at public highways and lay several thousand tons of ballast, said Ken Lucht, spokesman for Wisconsin & Southern.


The first phase would cost $6.1 million. The company is asking for $5 million from the state Department of Transportation.


-- Phase two would start in spring 2009 if funding comes through. The company will replace the 80-pound, jointed rail between Milton and Madison with 115-pound, continuous rail, Lucht said.


Phase two would cost $13 million. The company is asking for $10.4 million from the state.



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