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Railroad closures cause chaos in Muncie

Many railroad crossings across Muncie have been closed for construction

MUNCIE, Ind.--- Ball State senior Baileigh Hofer was on her way to work in Anderson when she ran into a road closure at the railroad crossing on White River Boulevard. She moved on to the next street and again found the crossing closed. After twenty minutes and multiple crossings, Hofer tried another route.

“I honestly didn’t know what to do other than go the opposite way through all of the traffic to go through the interstate,” Hofer said.

This was a problem that many drivers ran into this week. 

“Took me forty minutes round to drive what should have been ten minutes round trip,” said Michelle Foreman Freed on Facebook.

Several railroad crossings in Muncie were blocked off because of construction on the tracks. This included major roads such as Tillotson Avenue, White River Boulevard and Kilgore Avenue which impacted commute times and caused heavy traffic throughout town.

Robert Mead, chief of the Muncie Fire Department, said ambulances, firetrucks and police vehicles were also delayed due to the closures. 

“This is a major inconvenience for public safety,” Mead said.

But the fire department has been working to speed up the construction at essential crossings with the help of their hoses.

“It takes ten to twelve hours for the black top to cool, so what we’ve done is come in here to try to expedite this a little bit by cooling it with our water,” Mead said.

Michele Owen is the director of communications for the city of Muncie and said the city received very little notice about the closures.

“We had some general information. We knew that they would need to do some repairs this fall, but we really didn’t have the specific information that our first responders need or that we can pass on to our citizens,” Owen said.

America’s railroads are almost entirely privately owned so the city has no control over construction. The tracks in Muncie are owned by Norfolk Southern Corporation which said it notified the city weeks in advance.

Connor Spielmaker from Norfolk Southern said that replacing outdated rail is necessary and the reason why a large section of railroad has been closed off is because of the scale of construction. 

“This team is actually the only one in North America to replace large sections of rail at once. They replace both tracks in 1,500 foot long sections,” Spielmaker said.

The crew consists of 80 people who work their way up the track with construction, meaning road closures occur based on how quickly they move. 

“We’re trying to make things happen as quickly and safely as possible,” Spielmaker said.

“I understand what they have to do but the impact on us locally is enormous,” Mead said.

Residents of Muncie and the surrounding area have gone on social media to share their frustrations.

“This is ridiculous, poor planning and very inconvenient,” said Sheila Poor on Facebook.

In response, the city created a live map (Found Here) to show which crossings are closed along and issued a press release.

“It’s definitely been very chaotic but we’re just trying to keep people updated as soon as we find out information,” Owen said.

Owen said that building a better relationship with Norfolk Southern Corporation will help to prevent situations like this in the future.

“It seems like there has been a lot of missed communications along the way. We understand this has been very stressful for the railroad as well so we’re just hoping we can build a better, more communicative situation,” Owen said.

Residents like Baileigh Hofer just want to get to work on time.

“I hope they get it fixed so I don’t have to be rerouted everyday,” Hofer said.

Crews have finished construction for the week but are scheduled to begin again on Monday. The rest of the road closures are expected to be finished sometime next week. 

Contact Madeline Kerr with comments at makerr@bsu.edu