On Monday, the Clay County Commissioners met to receive a final update on the Chinook Mine Rail Study, which began in April 2009.
Hannum, Wagle and Cline Engineering, Terre Haute, Professional Engineer Brian Pohlar presented the update, which included analysis of the rail and drainage, along with recommendations for repairs and upgrades.
"Approximately 13.6 miles of track were evaluated between the junction at Springhill Drive to the Chinook Mine area," Pohlar said. "The rail line itself is in pretty good shape, but there are a lot of ties, particularly in the Chinook portion of the rail, that are defective."
Pohlar added there are pins missing and vegetation growing through ties on the portion owned by Indiana Rail Road and while some of the ties were also rotted in that stretch, between 90 and 98 percent of the ties on the Chinook portion of the rail needed to be replaced.
"Indiana Rail Road initially wanted the rail line to be restored to a Federal Railroad Association Class 3 track, meaning the maximum speed would be 40 miles per hour," he said.
Another area Pohlar said was looked into during the study were drainage conditions along the rail line.
"It appears some of the culverts and ditches have been rehabbed or replaced," Pohlar said. "However, some of the damages observed were erosion due to overtapping, partial failure of some stretches, deposition of debris and complete washouts."
One of the solutions he suggested to improve the drainage was to either add more culverts or replace some of the current culverts with larger ones. The culverts along the rail line range from 24 to 96 inches in diameter.
The purpose of the rail study was to determine the feasibility of restarting the Chinook branch of the line, which was closed in late 1998, with the last train running in January 1999. The idea of developing the area has become even more of a priority since the Chinook mine site was certified as a CSX Transportation Large Industrial/Light Manufacturing Mega Site by McCallum Sweeney Consulting, Greenville, S.C., in January.
"It is one of only a few areas with a mega site designation in the United States," Pohlar said. "It is a good tool to help market the area for future economic development."
Although the mega site certification is a benefit, Pohlar told the commissioners there is a hefty cost to make the area viable for development.
To repair the line completely would cost approximately $4,317,199, of which $2,319,485 would be specifically for the Chinook branch of the rail.
"There are immediate needs that could be done in the short term, like line clearing, storm repairs and flaw detection which totals $923,963 of that amount," Pohlar said. "That would benefit both the Chinook and Indiana Rail Road branches of the line."
Another major area researched during the study was the need for utility infrastructure.
Pohlar informed the commissioners the requirements to provide water services to the Chinook mine area -- which is approximately 7,000 square feet -- are 4.1 miles of new 12-inch water line/main, along with a booster station and a new storage tank. The total cost of this work would be approximately $4.82 million, and would provide about 750,000 gallons of water per day.
For sanitary sewer service, upgrades would have to be made to the Interstate-70 lift station, along with installing a new lift station and a force main. This would provide about 81,000 gallons per day of sanitary sewer, at an approximate cost of $1.83 million.
"The sanitary sewer by itself could probably service three buildings the size of Great Dane Trailers," Pohlar said.
Pohlar also added there are other obstacles that could hinder the development of the area in upcoming years.
"Outside of the current recession, rail freight traffic is down 17.2 percent since 2008, there is available space at competing industrial parks with rail lines and there is a lack of protection from residential encroachment," he said.
Pohlar suggested that for the time being, the Chinook area should be marketed as is, with the knowledge of what needs to be done, in order to prevent unnecessary spending at a time when budgets are tight.
"There is no sense in spending millions of dollars on an area there is currently no suitors for," Pohlar said. "However, the knowledge of the improvements needed will help when interest rises. Until then, future actions should be focused on working with regional economic development organizations to attract industry, creating a land-use plan, working with Indiana Rail Road to clear and repair the existing line and continue to pursue grants for additional funding."