Commissioner’s final decision: Close Haydn Street crossing...Frazier’s Old Faithful Inn owner may continue the fight and file for a judicial review

By Correne Martin

Wisconsin Railroad Commissioner Jeffrey Plale handed down his office’s final decision about Prairie du Chien’s Haydn Street railroad crossing this week, ordering the closure of the crossing by March 1. The two mainline tracks and the nearby spur track are both included in the closure.

The decision follows suit with the Oct. 8, 2013, proposed decision to close the crossing to public travel, despite local opposition.

Though Plale’s final decision shows continued disregard for any local wishes to keep the crossing open, Frazier’s Old Faithful Inn Owner Keith Coburn said other avenues remain open for him to keep fighting the closure of this access point to his business.

“Frankly, we’re not surprised that we’re here,” he said about himself and his attorney Gifford Collins. “We’ve been here before. The final decision (by the commissioner) was made in 2001 to close it and the crossing is still open today. The only way to beat [the railroad] is to keep pushing forward and fighting.”

Coburn was referring to his right, or the right of any other party adversely affected, to petition for a rehearing within 20 days or to file for judicial review within 30 days after the service of this week’s order. Coburn said he probably won’t appeal for a rehearing because “it would be pointless to go through [the Office of the Commissioner of Railroads] again.” Instead, he unofficially stated that he may petition for a judicial review. “I’d like to get my case in front of a neutral party who can take into account the whole story,” he added, alluding to the lengthy history of the case.

According to this week’s final decision, the commissioner agreed with most of the hearing examiner’s recommendations. Plale said a key reason for the crossing’s closure is because it would eliminate some 900 vehicular trips per day over a crossing carrying over 40 trains per day traveling 50 mph. He said although this is considered a relatively low amount of roadway traffic, closure of the Haydn Street crossing would still result in a significant improvement to public safety by eliminating 36,000 potential conflicts per day.

The commissioner’s order requires the city to install a barricade mounted to a road closed sign at the Haydn Street railroad crossing. The city is also required to construct and maintain a vehicular turnaround at the dead-end created east of the spur track as a result of the closure. Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) will bear the costs of the barricade and signage as well as the design and construction of the vehicular turnaround. The city will be in charge of maintaining the barricades, signage and turnaround.

The commissioner believes no vehicular turnaround is needed on the west approach to the crossing, due to the proximity of Illinois Street.

Commissioner Plale declined Coburn’s request to install a pedestrian crossing at Haydn Street after closure, stating “there currently are no sidewalks crossing the tracks or along Haydn Street east of the tracks.”
Plale also declined the city’s request to delay the closure until the completion of the STH 35/Marquette Road project, scheduled for 2014. “If the Haydn Street crossing is open during the project ... more local traffic will use Haydn Street, including the crossing, to access (the road). It would be illogical for the commissioner to close the crossing in order to improve public safety, but then delay the closure until after the highway project is completed with the likely result that more motorists would use the crossing.”

Prairie du Chien City Administrator Aaron Kramer released a statement Monday: “Today’s final ruling just cements my earlier disappointment in light of the arguments the city presented, along with other individuals, on the side of keeping the crossing open. At a bare minimum, I would have hoped the commissioner would have at least waited for the Marquette Road project to be completed before closing the crossing. As such, we will comply with the ruling, and make preparations to close the crossing on March 1.”

If Coburn and his attorney petition and are granted a judicial review, closure could again be delayed.

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