By Luke Klink
Canadian National officials informed Ladysmith leaders Monday they will halt efforts to have the city close Corbett Avenue to make way for a new wye switch, allowing faster train travel between a renovated east-west line and the busy north-south line.
Financial incentives of $127,500 from the railroad and another $7,500 from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources also will likely be taken off the table, according to City Administrator Al Christianson.
“That is our current understanding,” Christianson said.
Alderman at the city’s Whole Committee meeting met in closed session Monday, speaking with railroad officials by telephone.
Last week, CN officials announced a $35 million project to restore nearly 40 miles of track between Ladysmith and Poskin, in Barron County. However, work has been going on for months in advance of the railroad’s announced first contract to haul frac sand by train through Ladysmith. The railroad has been making similar financial offers to municipalities between Ladysmith and the new $50 million Superior Silica Sands facility. The mine and rail are currently scheduled to begin operating in November.
CN Public Affairs Director Patrick Waldron said CN was dropping its request. He added the financial incentives totaling $135,000 could have been helpful in the city seeking street improvements qualifying the city as a quiet zone where engineers would not be required to blow horns at every crossing.
“We put forth what we thought was a very fair and generous offer and the city didn’t accept it,” Waldron said.
The current wye just north of Corbett Avenue is rated for a 10 mph maximum speed and the requested new wye would have allowed trains traveling between 25 and 30 mph, reducing traffic congestion on nearby roads. Trains up to a mile long at slower speeds could block crossings for 7 minutes or more, delaying motorists and police, fire and medical responders.
The city has learned that CN is going to redesign the curve between Wis. 27 south and W. 5th Street S so that the switch will be located north of Corbett Avenue and the crossing will be left “as is, where is,” according to Christianson. “They have a fair amount of right-of-way,” he said.
Railroad officials wanted Corbett Avenue closed to accommodate the new rail switch after first looking at placing the switch south of the street. A switch does not work properly if placed in the middle of a street crossing, and placing the switch south of Corbett Avenue would have required a more costly and timely process of environmental hearings to fill in a portion of Corbett Lake.
The railroad could have requested the street closing through the Wisconsin Commissioner of Railroads, which also would have required a lengthy process of hearings and reviews from that office.
Ald. Carol Huiras-Rozak said installing safety measures if Corbett Avenue were closed like sidewalk, crosswalk painting and a nearby sex offender residence on Fritz Avenue would have been costly. “We would have probably spent all of that $127,500 on doing thee safety measures,” she added.
Corbett Avenue residents objected to closing the street for a variety of reasons, mostly safety of travel and convenience of reaching the Rusk County Community Library several blocks west of the rail crossing.
Long-time Corbett Avenue business owner and resident Chuck Goin, chairman of the city’s Plan Commission, was pleased with the decision. He objected to the request to close Corbett, saying the street is used heavily by library patrons, especially children from the nearby Our Lady of Sorrows School.
“I think it’s wonderful if the railroad can get what they want and we can keep our street that’s great,” Goin said. “It is sure going to be a benefit for the people who drive ti the library or walk to the library from this side of town.