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UP will work with city

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Worthington, 56187
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

WORTHINGTON -- A Union Pacific (UP) representative vowed Monday to work with City of Worthington staff and councilmen in the wake of complaints pertaining to violations in the 2004 agreement between the city and railroad company.

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Tom Useldinger, manager of train operations in UP's Mankato office, met with staff and council in a special work session prior to the start of Monday's regularly scheduled council meeting. The meeting was prompted, in part, by complaints over long delays at the 12th Street railroad crossing.

A deal to expand the Union Pacific switching yard and close the city's 16th Street railroad crossing was approved by city council members on May 24, 2004. Part of the agreement included a provision that UP install a constant warning time system at the 12th Street crossing to minimize traffic delays.

Yet, delays continue to plague the intersection, with trains either remaining motionless for extended periods of times or gates remaining down despite no train being present. Useldinger offered a variety of explanations for the difficulties.

One potential reason for a delay -- especially in winter, Useldinger said -- involves outside temperature.

"Once it gets below 20 degrees it's a big factor, and once you're below zero, it's a tremendous difference," Useldinger explained. "Air pressure is what takes brakes off on a train, and you have to pump the brakes up in order to be able to release them. With cold temperatures ... it's difficult to regain the needed air pressure."

The "breaking" of a train in half or the fixing of a mechanical problem could also lead to an extended time in resetting the brakes, he said.

Useldinger added that another potential contributing factor for delays is the use of a national UP-contracted taxi service to shuttle railroad employees on site during a train stop. It's not uncommon for an employee for do plenty of walking along the tracks during a stoppage, therefore resulting in longer delays.

The city has now agreed to work with Southwest Minnesota Opportunity Council (SMOC) to see that Worthington Taxi Service could potentially provide the service instead, Useldinger said. The grade of a section of UP's railroad tracks also poses some problems time-wise, he noted.

"From the north switch to the old 16th Street crossing, there's four feet of elevation change," Useldinger detailed. "We use gravity a lot in switching, and switching uphill doesn't bode well for the rest of our operation. We set up work from our south end in the morning between 8 and 10, so that makes us able to work from the north end the rest of the day."

City Administrator Bob Filson said he was pleased with recent discussions with Useldinger, who not long ago became the liaison between the city and UP.

"He and I have had a couple of really productive phone conversations," Filson said. "I'm not going to say it's perfect, but I'd say we have the basis for a very professional working relationship. I'm pleased with the response we got."

Beautification work near the former 16th Street crossing is set to take place in the spring, said Filson, noting that some work has already taken place on the depot building.

In other business, the council:

l Approved preliminary assessment plans for proposed improvements to Castlewood Drive as well as a second project encompassing Cecilee Street, Donavon Drive, Sterling Avenue and Sutherland Drive.

l Approved -- in the capacity of the Economic Development Authority -- a low bid of $365,089 from Johnson Builders & Realtors, Worthington, for construction of a spec building within the bioscience industrial park. Eight other firms bid on the project.

l Approved the expenditure of $7,500 for having Short Elliot Hendrickson, Worthington, prepare a preliminary plan to further develop the Buss Field soccer field complex. Swift & Co. is also contributing $7,500 toward the plan.

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