Letter to the Editor

Your view: In response

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

I'd like to comment on an editorial in the June 9 edition of the Southeast Missourian concerning the railroads. The City of Sikeston agrees completely with your point that "Safety issues cannot be ignored" and that to do so would be irresponsible.

Throughout this discussion the position of the City of Sikeston has been simple and straightforward. We do not oppose Union Pacific's efforts to run their trains more efficiently. We simply believe it would be better for them to do that in the countryside, rather than route their trains through populated areas.

There are many aspects to safety. They include train accidents as well as the issues of blocking traffic to first responders and law enforcement. Considering just accidents alone, there is a strong case to make that trains run safer outside populated areas.

The United States Department of Transportation compiles statistics on railway accidents. In the state of Missouri over the last ten years Union Pacific has been involved in 148 accidents resulting in 19 deaths. They operate in 35 Missouri counties and have 1016 miles of mainline track throughout the state. Of this, 66 of these track miles are in Stoddard County.

Yet of those 19 deaths across 35 counties, five of them were in Stoddard County. All of them were in populated areas. None of them were in the countryside. These numbers bear out what common sense suggests. It's safer to run trains where there are fewer people.

Beyond that, Union Pacific's proposal would increase train traffic across U.S. Highway 60 from one train a week to upwards from 10 trains a day. U.S. Highway 60 is a high-speed, four-lane highway with a traffic count of 11,000 cars and trucks a day where the railway intersects. It is the extension of Interstate 57 into Missouri.

They are not willing to wait the two years, and longer, that it would take to build an overpass at that intersection to save lives. They propose to stop traffic completely 7,300 times over that two year period for hours each day. The safety problem, of course, is that car and truck drivers on Interstate-type highways are totally unprepared to stop. Some do, some don't. When they don't, people die. There's no vehicle on the road that can pass a 65 mph rear-end crash test. Union Pacific has yet to demonstrate to anyone that they care.

I would like to correct two points in your editorial though. I know that Union Pacific announced with great fanfare that they were going to "reopen its dialogue with area officials" as you put it. Apparently, that was just for the press release. When their spokesmen came to Sikeston last week, they stopped at the newspaper, but did not visit City Hall and did not attempt to contact me. So much for reopening dialogue.

Finally, we have already offered suggestions to accommodate UP's traffic. Along with Senators Bond and Talent, Congresswoman Emerson, Governor Blunt and State Senator Jason Crowell, we have encouraged Union Pacific to pursue their original plan to double-track their existing rail line that runs directly between Rockview and Dexter. We know that made sense at one point to Union Pacific because they purchased 33 individual parcels of land to gain the right-of-way to do just that. Had they pursued that plan, which they suspended in 2002, they'd have their double track by now.

Had they pursued that original plan, they'd have a route that is 10 miles shorter and straighter. By coming south, they will have to slow their trains down to come through a populated area into a tight 90 degree turn. In addition, the safety crossing features on that route would only cost taxpayers $2.5 million. The price tag for the southern route is $24 million and climbing.

Union Pacific's northern route is cheaper for the public and far, far safer. They don't seem to care. We do.


Mike Marshall, Mayor of Sikeston