Rail Repair

Work completed on CSX train tracks
through downtown La Grange

Merchants suffer temporarily but glad it's done

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

LA GRANGE, Ky. – Karen Eldridge says a weight has been lifted off her shoulders. For many merchants along Main Street in La Grange, Ky., the frustrations associated with a two-year-long CSX Railroad project have ended.

CSX Railroad Employees

Photo by Don Ward

CSX Railroad employees spent much
of November working on train track
improvements through downtown
La Grange, Ky. The much-anticipated
work is designed to meet new federal
transportation requirements and make auto
traffic safer in the town's business district.

“I’m glad to finally have it done,” said Eldridge. She hopes to soon have a nice, smooth paved road in front of her business, Karen’s Book Barn and Java Stop, on the corner of Main Street.
From Nov. 5-21, the railroad tracks along Main Street were given a facelift. CSX workers replaced a dilapidated section of track running down the center of La Grange’s historic business district, from Second Street to Walnut Street.
Workers dug down five feet and replaced gravel and track, and laid all new ties. Asphalt was poured to smooth out and meet the level of the current asphalt and extend the sidewalk. Conduit was laid to run wires for gates that will be installed at Main Street and Hwy. 53.
Many business owners like Eldridge were concerned over the loss of business they might experience while Main Street was closed for track renovations.
Eldridge said business “was slower to a certain extent.” But she said another factor to consider was the cold, rainy weather. This may have combined with the confusion of where to park while shopping along Main Street.
“The restaurants struggled more,” said Eldridge, a board member for Discover Downtown La Grange and who also represents the La Grange Business Association. She believes customers did not want to fight for a space to park for lunch but rather chose other restaurants to patronize.
Norma Jean Burley, owner of Norma Jean’s Trackside Restaurant at 119 W. Main St., said the project “made things very difficult.” This was especially true for older customers who had trouble seeing how to cross the street in the dark to get to their cars.
“We had to close early three nights,” said Burley. She said many customers who were unsure whether Main Street was open may not have taken the chance to come out, accounting for a lower number of restaurant patrons. Although Burley had signs explaining hours of operation during the track closings, it was still a frustrating experience for her.
Jean Kaelin, co-owner of Friends and Fiber Inc., said there was no doubt that the construction hurt her business, even though it was something that was “desperately needed.” Her business sits in the middle of the historic district at 106 E. Main St.
Patrons who were scheduled for knitting classes still came in support of her business and didn’t shy away because of a lack of parking, she said. Those who frequently come to town are here to stay, said Kaelin.
Kaelin is glad the work was completed before Thanksgiving. “The railroad did a good job and was out faster than I thought they would be,” she said.
Trish Garlock, whose business, The Treasured Child, sits across the tracks from Friends and Fiber Inc., praised CSX workers saying, “They really worked hard.”
Anticipating a decrease of customers during this project time, Garlock sent out a catalogue before work began on the tracks. “I was already driving business this way,” she said.
As with other business merchants along Main Street, Garlock also had customer appreciation sales events. The merchants persevered, but it was difficult for them, she said. “It is a hard time of the year for retailers to lose all parking and drive-by traffic. There is a world of things to be done to improve the whole ambiance of the street, but not at this point before Christmas.”
The next step is to acquire funding for new crossing gates at Main Street and Hwy. 53, said Eldridge. The city applied for a T-21 grant last year in the amount of $875,000, but La Grange did not receive the money. Mayor Elsie Carter said this was due to a letter of public opposition.
The project had received a favorable review, said Carter, but was unable to garner any grant monies due to the one complaint. Carter and city grant writer Darlene Rusnak have begun revising the grant and plan to lower the amount requested because not as many amenities are needed now, said Carter.
This money would be used to cover drainage, sidewalk improvements, benches, signs and trees.
The biggest portion of the grant is for the new crossing, said Eldridge. The Federal Railroad Administration gave the city seven years to complete this project.
One stipulation to the project is that a quiet zone must also be maintained. The FRA mandated the outline for the quiet zone, which means that the approximately 30 trains that travel through La Grange each day would not have to sound their horns while passing through.

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