LIMA — No action will be taken until the city’s law director can provide legal direction regarding the North Cable Road railroad crossing, but a Lima City Council committee chair extended an invitation Monday to Genesee and Wyoming Inc. executives to meet with city leaders.
The chair is open to leading a city contingent to meet with the executives at their corporate headquarters in Darien, Connecticut, or at the regional office in Fort Wayne, Indiana, which is the hub of the Chicago, Fort Wayne and Eastern Railroad lines.
First Ward Councilman Todd Gordon, who chairs the Safety Services Committee, tabled the issue Monday so the condition of the North Cable Road crossing as well as the East Elm Street and McDonald Street crossings could be discussed at a yet to be scheduled meeting with Law Director Tony Geiger. Geiger was out of town Monday.
“Anytime you want to get anything done, you have to be patient with what you are doing,” Gordon said after the committee meeting about the pace of government. “We are going to talk with the law director and see what we can get done and try to take care of business. As far as the committee and myself, I fully support the folks and what they are doing out there because they are not the only ones having the issue.”
Lima resident John Bowker, who helped organize a May 2 demonstration with Ohio Northern University law students, addressed committee members by providing a brief history on the problems experienced at the North Cable Road crossing, just south of Elida Road.
He said complaints about “rough tracks” have been made since 2002 and something needs to be done at a crossing where more than 20,000 vehicles cross each day and eight trains traverse the tracks.
He provided an inspection report from Public Utilities Commission of Ohio that states the “majority of the roughness comes from the area around the mainline” and that rubber panels in the center of track are “broken internally and sinking under traffic, loss of asphalt material and sinking of asphalt along rails and asphalt humps in the southbound lanes.” The report describes the surfaces as “heavily worn and deteriorated.”
Bowker understood the railroad changed hands three times in the last five years, but he is no longer willing to allow that as an excuse for the crossing not being fixed.
Genesee & Wyoming Inc. purchased the Chicago, Fort Wayne and Eastern Railroad line, which includes the railroad track paralleling Elida Road, in January 2013.
“At this point in time, I am of the position now — after having talked with state Attorney General Mike DeWine — that the only way that this situation will be resolved is if the city of Lima, with help from various legal sources within the city, sues the railroad for breach and failure to honor the codes of the state of Ohio,” Bowker said. “There is a provision in the code that the city can sue for damages.
“The long and the short of it is the ball is in our court here in the city of Lima and what we do with it is obviously up to you,” he said. “I really think the time for talking is over and we must take action if for no other reason to protect the citizens of this city.”
Public Works Supervisor Howard Elstro said the solution the railroad executives officials suggested would cost about $1 million and would result in the crossing being rebuilt and reducing the crossing from four to three. He said councilors did support legislation to help the company by applying for funds through the Ohio Railroad Development Commission to repair the crossing.
Elstro said he thought they had a “sound plan,” but their “issue was funding.”
He said proceeding with a lawsuit is an issue for Geiger and local attorney and professor Bruce French to advise the committee and to explain to them the advantages and disadvantages of pursuing litigation.
In the end, Gordon would be in favor of a face-to-face meeting with company executives.
“I believe in communication and I would love for them to come down and speak with us whether it is to make excuses for why they can’t do it or what,” Gordon said. “I believe in getting all the players in the game to sit down and talk to see if we can’t get something done. The only thing that matters is that we do get it fixed.”