North Judson Railroad Lease Discussed

Hoosier Valley Railroad MuseumMore details have been revealed in the planned lease of North Judson’s short line railroad. Last month, the town council selected Lake State Railway to lease and operate the line.

The company currently operates about 300 miles of track in Michigan with headquarters in Saginaw. Lake State representatives were in North Judson Thursday to explain some future plans and answer questions from local residents.

For one thing, the line will now be known as the Chicago and North Judson Railroad, according to Lake State representative Janet Gilbert. It will technically be a separate company based in Indiana, while still under Lake State’s control. Gilbert says the new entity will hire local employees, while Lake State will offer marketing and operating expertise.

As part of the transition, employees of the current operator, the Chesapeake and Indiana Railroad, will not automatically be retained. Instead, they would have to apply for positions within the new company. Gilbert noted that the Chicago and North Judson Railroad will not technically be able to take control of the line until the current operator is legally removed by the Surface Transportation Board. However, the hope is the Chesapeake and Indiana will give up control voluntarily, to speed up the process.

Several local residents and Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum volunteers raised concerns during Thursday’s public hearing. Museum officials wanted to know when the museum would be allowed to resume its excursion trains beyond English Lake and into LaCrosse. Others in the audience complained about the railroad’s current condition.

A few potential safety issues were brought up, such as the cleanup of hazardous materials following the storage of oil barrels along the line. Someone also pointed out that recent track repairs in LaCrosse appear to have led to dangerous gaps in the pavement at a sidewalk crossing frequently used by schoolchildren.

One LaCrosse resident described the stretch of track in that community as a kind of junkyard for locomotives and various equipment. Gilbert said this sort of use of the line is not in the company’s future plans. Instead, the new operator hopes to increase freight traffic, something that was requested by the Town of North Judson.

In recent months, the Chesapeake and Indiana Railroad has renounced its responsibility for the section of track between English Lake and North Judson. That’s left it up to the Town of North Judson and the Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum to operate. There are currently no freight customers on that section. But Gilbert said the Chicago and North Judson Railroad does plan to maintain it and make it available for potential freight traffic. She also discussed the possibility of upgrading the track to allow higher speeds, if and when traffic warrants it.

However, Gilbert and town officials were unable to answer many of the questions at this point. Instead, they promised to address the issues during a private meeting set for today. It will involve representatives from the town, the museum, Lake State Railway, Co-Alliance, and any other interested customers. North Judson Town Council President Wendy Hoppe said the proposed lease hasn’t been signed yet, and no rental fee has been determined.