With silica sand demand increasing, the CN Railroad recently added two additional railroad lines across South River Road between Taylor and Blair near the Hi-Crush plant to help reduce blockages at the intersection.
The railroad was previously planning on making the update by Oct. 2015, but the silica sand industry slumped prompting CN to push back the full project. They instead installed one yard lead track south of the mainline track that went to the Blair Yard.
“The WCL (Wisconsin Central Ltd.) has installed the signals but due to decline in the frac sand business the two tracks installation was put on hold. Sand business has now picked up and the WCL is ready to install the additional tracks and relocate the signals into the correct position per the order,” Commissioner of Railroads Yash P. Wadhwa said in an amended order Nov. 21.
Two tracks have since been added in the intersection. The northernmost track will be the new mainline track and so trains crossing on this track will not enter the Blair Yard. The next track located 18 feet south will be a receiving and departure track that will be available so trains can pass each other.
The previous mainline track will be 10 feet south and converted to a receiving and departure track. The yard lead track furthest to the south will remain the same. The switches for these tracks will be located east of South River Road.
“Installing the switches east of the roadway will provide longer lead distances moving in and out of the yard. As a result, the railroad’s interest in efficient use of its track infrastructure dovetails with the public’s interest in avoiding the blockage of the roadway by a stopped train,” 2015 Commissioner of Railroads Jeffrey T. Plale stated in his final decision April 9, 2015.
Despite the expected blockages when the Blair Yard was first built, Plale expected the additional tracks to alleviate some of the problems.
“As demand for rail shipping has increased on this line, blockages of public crossings have also increased. Adding track capacity will not only increase the efficiency of railroad operations, but will also drastically reduce the public crossing blockages,” Plale said.
CN spokesman Patrick Waldron agreed. “With the one lane you have congestion and traffic. When you put in another lane it can accommodate more traffic more efficiently,” Waldron said adding that it is like adding more lanes on a road that can then handle traffic more efficiently.
While these new tracks may provide an improvement over the previous setup, the system still will create more blockages than the single-track railroad there before the construction of the Blair Yard.
Town of Springfield chairman Leif Olson is not completely convinced these new tracks will make life easier.
“I’m not sure it is going to help anything with more lines across the road because how many times are they going to be pushing cars in and out the other lines?” Olson said.
Even though Olson is not convinced, he knows his residents will continue to live with the blockages just like they have been in the area.
“In the public they complain about every crossing because they get held up there and then in town you have to wait and then out at Davis Road and getting held up at Lincoln Road—it has been all over because of the traffic of the trains,” Olson said.
While the increase in railroad traffic may not be welcome, Olson is happy that CN will continue to have signals at the intersection.
“Back when they were talking about putting in those extra crossings, we really specified that we wanted the signals because kids are going through there for school and everything,” Olson said.
Prior to the signals being constructed in 2015 that replaced a yield sign, there had been two train-vehicle accidents that had occurred at the crossing since 1973. River Road is also the main way to get to the Blair-Taylor School when arriving from the east.
“It is definitely something people have had to plan for,” Blair-Taylor High School Principal Dana Eide said.
Despite the increases in railroad traffic in the area, Waldron said CN is working to serve a rapidly growing part of the Wisconsin economy.
“CN has been investing in infrastructure to meet the needs of those customers,” Waldron said. “The expansion of the facility (Blair Yard) is to accommodate that business so that it can move quickly and efficiently.”
The railroad that runs through the Blair Yard stretches between Wisconsin Rapids and Arcadia. On top of the sand hauled on the line, Ashley Furniture also does a lot of shipping using this railroad.