Cedar Falls Utilities
receives coal by rail to fuel its plant and is the only
customer at the end of a 1.5-mile spur track. However, the spur track weaves
right through the middle of a residential, downtown neighborhood. In some cases,
the railroad track is within 30 to 50 feet of private homes. The spur track has
11 highway-railroad crossings, including a stretch where the track goes down
the middle of the street for several blocks.
this was former Rock Island track, and Cedar Falls Utilities had not used coal
for a number of years, the tracks and crossings were in tough shape. The
current operator, Iowa Northern Railway
, and Cedar Falls Utilities developed
an agreement to provide for the maintenance of the spur track and crossings. The
coal is critical to Cedar Falls Utilities’ operation. Shipping coal by rail is
now the most convenient and cost effective method.
Fortunately, Iowa Northern previously submitted applications for the 11
crossings to the Iowa DOT’s Grade Crossing Surface Repair Program. This program
funds 60 percent of the cost of the improvements at a highway-railroad grade
crossing. The railroad pays 20 percent of the cost and the owner of the road
pays the remaining 20 percent. In this case, Cedar Falls Utilities agreed to pay
the railroad's and city's share.
there was one other hitch. The rail line between the crossings was also in bad
shape. Before highway-railroad grade crossing surface repair funds were invested
in the crossings, the other condition issues needed to be addressed to lessen
the risk of any train derailment near homes in downtown Cedar Falls. Cedar Falls
Utilities agreed to pay for repair work to the track between the crossings. The
upgrade and repair of the line and 11 crossings cost more than $1.5 million,
with Cedar Falls Utilities paying more than $670,000 of the cost.
"The project went so smoothly with cooperation from
the utility, the railroad and some excellent contractors. The track went from
being a community eyesore to a community enhancement," said Mary Jo Key, the
Iowa DOT’s rail project manager.