EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD: Nearly six years later, trains still block planes

2013-12-01T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD: Nearly six years later, trains still block planesBy Wil Davis nwitimes.com
December 01, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Recently I came across the Biz News Sunday edition of The Times dated March 9, 2008. There I was pictured standing in front of the railroad embankment at the approach end of runway 12 at the Gary/Chicago International Airport. The headline read “Tenant Fighting Mad."

Guess what? The embankment is still there, and I am still fighting mad.

It’s been almost six years since that picture was taken, and more than $130 million has been spent, but access to the new tracks is unavailable, so the embankment stays and the Canadian National still uses them on a very frequent basis.

The reason for all of the governing agencies to appropriate money for this project was the safety of the traveling public. There is only 200 feet from the end of the runway to the embankment.

The FAA realized this was unacceptable, and with funding from the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority joined together to correct an unacceptable situation. Everyone was on board except the railroads, whom I have concluded want nothing to change, even if the issue is safety of the traveling public. They do not care.

Harley Snyder, a Valparaiso real estate developer and RDA member, recently told me there are four types of government: federal, state, local and railroad. Harley has done many deals, and he knows what he is talking about. But it’s obvious these railroads answer to no one.

What complicates the airport situation is we are not dealing with just one railroad, but three: CN, Norfolk Southern and CSX.

In the 2008 article, I referred to then-CEO of the CN, E. Hunter Harrison, who wrote to our U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky and stated, “There is no basis to blame the EJ&E track (CN was buying them at the time) for being located next to the airport. The railroad was operating through Gary at the beginning of the 20th century, before the first flight of the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk.”

So what was built over 100 years ago should never move to accommodate others for the reasons of safety? What is really more appalling about this arrogant attitude is that all of the costs for the move have been paid for by taxpayer, not the railroads.

I have concluded that there is no face to the railroads. No one person is recognized as the person in charge; therefore, it is a moving target that is very difficult to tackle.

If something in government goes south, a politician is called on the carpet by the taxpayer. In business, the board of directors can move on the CEO. But in the railroad business, there is no one target to blame.

Our real problem is that if this railroad relocation is not accomplished by the fall of 2015, the FAA has every right to shorten the existing 7,000 foot runway. If that happens, fold the tent and go home.

With respect to my picture of almost six years ago, my weight is about the same, but the hair is grayer. It goes with the territory!

Wil Davis is owner/operator of the Gary Jet Center. The opinions are the writer's.

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