Nearly three years have passed and hikers, local residents and even state legislators continue to come together against the closure on the Tecumseh Trail at Indian Hill Road railroad crossing.
The trail is one of the longest hiking trails in the state, and the detour has caused hikers to take a 5- to 6-mile walking detour around the railroad crossing following its closure two years ago at the request of the Indiana Rail Road.
In the spring of 2020, the railroad company asked the Brown County Commissioners to close the crossing, which is near the State Road 45 end of Indian Hill Road, due to safety concerns related to line of sight and how steep the embankment is leading up to the crossing.
When that happened, it cut off access from Indian Hill Road to the highway.
The Brown County Commissioners announced at their Oct. 5 meeting that they chose to “pursue a solution” with Indiana Department of Transportation, which would allow pedestrians to legally cross the railroad tracks at State Road 45 in Trevlac.
With the proposed reroute, once a pedestrian crossing is added to State Road 45, hikers could come straight down Bear Creek over the trail, then straight into the Sycamore Land Trust’s property, which is already on the Hoosier Hiker Council website as the proposed detour.
They could then cross back over to Indian Hill Road.
Whether or not that is adopted as the new trail is up to hiking and trail associations.
The commissioners said in October plan to make inquiries into Sycamore Land Trust, who owns the property which the suggested reroute crosses, to establish the trail in that area and bring it back to Indian Hill, south of the crossing owned by Indiana Rail Road.
Mike Moga, the commissioners’ attorney, said in October that the county made an agreement both with INDOT and Indiana Rail Road when the crossing was closed.
While the county can apply to open crossing back up, Indiana Rail Road will have chance to appeal as it is “their railroad,” Moga said.
With this agreement in hand and the fact that they can appeal it, it would be very difficult for commissioners to petition INDOT to open up the crossing, he said.
Moga said in October that he believed the commissioners’ solution was “a very thoughtful idea” to create pedestrian crossing without having to use county funds on State Road 45.
Commissioners made the decision earlier this month to vacate an alley in Trevlac, which requires a public hearing in order to vacate.
The action raised a question at their March 1 meeting in regards to the process of a public hearing, with the railroad closure in mind.
Brown County resident Tim Clark said that it begged the question as to why there was not a hearing to close the railroad crossing at Indian Hill Road.
Brown County Highway Superintendent Mike Magner said that they were vacating an alley that was never developed.
Randall Pflueger of the Knobstone Trail Hiking Association was at the meeting and said the point of a hearing is to find out who has an interest in the area.
Magner said the crossing — which is not a bridge, but a slab, low-water crossing — is in poor condition and is a safety issue for the county.
Pflueger said the railroad should have a valid agreement in place, and since there was no hearing, there is no such valid agreement with the railroad.
“You simply have an invalid agreement to get rid of,” he told commissioners.
“The reason you’re having a hearing for this alley, no matter how small and insignificant it seems, it’s important to do that as your due diligence. Your due diligence was never done in closing that crossing.”
Commissioner Ron Sanders said on March 1 that if there were to be a public hearing that commissioners would close the railroad crossing due to the liability issue the crossing poses.
The crossing was described by Magner last fall by sitting at a “severe hump and a skew.”
“That particular crossing is not normal,” Sanders said. “At this point I think we’re at a standstill. If you guys think we need to take legal action, probably that’s where we’re at.”
Sanders said on March 1 that he’d like to see state representatives come to them and explain how reopening the railroad could be funded.
On March 15, that state-level support was shown for reopening the crossing when State Representative Matt Pierce (D-Dist. 61) addressed commissioners.
Pierce addressed commissioners saying he and other legislators — in the house and senate — wanted to help reopen the crossing.
He was among several legislators that sent a letter to the commissioners hoping they would open the crossing, he said.
“There are other legislators that want to help you, whether it’s Hall or Koch, and other members that belong to the trail caucus, which promotes trails throughout the state,” Pierce said.
Pierce said he has done “a lot of work” speaking with Indiana Department of Transportation and the Federal railroad talking about what can and cannot be done for the crossing.
“I think there is flexibility there, I really think it’s what you can agree with (Indiana Rail Road),” he said.
Pierce continued that if the commissioners were to decide they wanted to send a letter to Indiana Rail Road or pass a resolution to say they’d like to reopen the crossing, that legislators would be “more than happy” to work with the county in any way to use “powers of persuasion” on the railroad however they can.
“At the end of the day if we have to change some statutes in order to get this whole thing resolved, we’re prepared to work on that (in session),” he said.
“I just wanted to make you aware of that and make sure you knew that we are willing to help in any way we can.”
Commissioner President Jerry Pittman said that it’s not a simple matter and they have continual advice from legal counsel, which commissioners will follow.
What’s the cost?
Former commissioner Diane Biddle said in October that in discussions with Indiana Rail Road, they agreed to help re-establish the crossing on Indian Hill for pedestrian traffic only, but at a cost higher than $155,000, which the county would pay.
The railroad’s total financial investment would be more than $400,000, because of construction costs.
Last fall, commissioners learned that INDOT will be making repairs to the railroad crossing at State Road 45, just south of Branstetter Road near Trevlac, in the next five years.
In October, Brown County Commissioners chose a path to take in reopening the Tecumseh Trail crossing to pedestrians in a new location, at the INDOT crossing at State Road 45 in Trevlac, just south of Branstetter Road. INDOT is set to make repairs to the crossing in the next five years, at which point they would be able to add a safe pedestrian crossing, commissioners said in October.
Democrat File Photo
Being an INDOT project, INDOT would also pay for a pedestrian crossing to be added to the area, with no cost incurred to the county or the railroad.
She said they would pursue that option since it does not encumber the county taxpayer for additional funding on that project and they would ask the trail association to partner with commissioners to try to see what INDOT will do.
If there were no buy-in from INDOT, Biddle said alternative options would need to be re-examined.
Biddle said on Oct. 5 that she did not know the time frame, but it is on a projected schedule.
She added that in conversations with INDOT and Indiana Rail Road, INDOT suggested the commissioners, trail association, Indiana Rail Road and the Legislative Trail Caucus at the statehouse to provide letters of support asking to move up the crossing upgrade.
Biddle said that in looking at trail documents and the trail itself, they found that the Hoosier Hiker Council has a proposed reroute map on their website.
Pflueger was present at the meeting on Oct. 5 and asked commissioners why they did not consider the option presented to commissioners by the association in August.
The trail association in August offered an alternative proposal for signage at the crossing at Indian Hill Road, which brought the cost to just under $2,000, which Pflueger said was in compliance with state and federal laws.
Magner said that what was proposed by the trail association were standards that assumed a flat ground and square crossing, which is not the case at Indian Hill Road.
Biddle said that in order to legally accomplish reopening that particular crossing, the association would need a separate easement from Indiana Rail Road, who owns 50 feet of land on either side of the rail road, which they should have already had to cross the private railroad.
Pierce said last week that the those that questioned the need for a $140,000 crossing are right, that it is not necessary.
“It just has to be something that’s consistent with the uniform traffic control manual,” Pierce told commissioners on March 1.