By Tom Gilchrist
For The Advertiser
ALMER TWP. — Township leaders here say a railroad track running north from Caro to Colling hasn’t been used in 10 years, and say some area residents have complained of car-jarring railroad crossings along that route at Elmwood and Dickerson roads.
“I guess my thought is that if the railroad is not going to operate — if there are not going to be any trains to Colling — then why do we need to put up with the crossings at all?” Almer Township Supervisor Jim Miklovic asked at a Thursday meeting of officials from the railroad, Tuscola County Road Commission, state Department of Transportation and the Vita Plus elevator at Colling.
John Tilt, a Gagetown-based general manager with Vita Plus — which makes livestock feed — told the group that rail cars will deliver products to the Colling elevator this month and in May. Vita Plus still wants railroad service at Colling, though it has been years since rail cars arrived there, according to Tilt.
“I was going to look to see when we loaded out our last cars — I can’t remember,” Tilt said. ” I’m sure it was 2003, 2004 or 2005 — somewhere in there.”
The state owns the eight miles of track from Caro to Colling. The stretch runs through Almer and Columbia townships. Huron and Eastern Railway Co. Inc., of Vassar, operates on the track. Huron and Eastern is owned by Genesee & Wyoming Inc., based in Jacksonville, Fla.
“As far as abandoning (the track), that’s a big deal,” said Dave Morgan, a railroad safety inspector for the state Transportation Department. “The federal government is involved with that. It’s not an easy task. If you’ve got one customer that says ‘I might want a car,’ it’s pretty much going to stay there.”
Morgan called the rail crossing at Dickerson Road in Columbia Township — where two sets of tracks cross the road — “deplorable.” But Morgan said the crossing at Elmwood Road is “not that bad.”
“If you hit it at 85 miles an hour, you’re going to get a bump,” Morgan said. “The crossing itself is quite solid and in quite good condition.”
“With all due respect,” Miklovic responded, “if you hit it at 25 miles an hour, you’re gonna go for quite a ride there.”
“I went out there and went over it at 55 (mph) and I didn’t spill my coffee,” Morgan replied.
“What are you driving?” Miklovic asked.
Huron and Eastern Railway Co. Inc. hasn’t placed funding for repairing the Dickerson Road crossing in its budget for this year, according to Justin Brandt and Kevin Royston, Vassar-based railroad officials. Royston works for Genesee & Wyoming Inc.
Morgan said he probably will contact the state Attorney General “for some enforcement” to try to force the railroad to improve the Dickerson Road crossing.
“That crossing is horrible and it is the railroad’s responsibility,” Morgan said.
Miklovic asked Tilt and the railroad representatives if their employers could provide some help in improving the Elmwood Road crossing.
“Just so I can get the quote right for my boss, why would we spend money on a road that we didn’t put in for a crossing that we don’t have to maintain?” Tilt asked Miklovic. “I’m just wondering — how do I phrase that to him?”
“To be very honest about it, the only reason that crossing is there — as far as I’m concerned now — is because Vita Plus is there,” Miklovic said. “Maybe you could sell him on that.”
Tilt said he would talk with the Vita Plus owner about the situation. He said he will contact Esch Landscaping LLC of Pigeon for a cost estimate on improving the Elmwood crossing. Morgan praised Esch’s work near other rail crossings.
“We’ll make a run with the people with the money and see if we can’t push the issue a little bit,” added Brandt, from Huron and Eastern.
Charles Dennis, an Almer Township trustee, asked Morgan if the state also could contribute to improving the Elmwood Road crossing.
“I’m trying to figure if we could get a few pennies from all directions here,” Dennis said.
“Well because it’s a state-owned line, I’m not saying it’s impossible,” Morgan said.