By Bill Short
The Millington Board of Mayor and Aldermen has approved a contract with the Canadian National Railroad to install new train detector equipment outside the Church Street crossing.
Board members took the action during their July 1 regular monthly meeting on a motion offered by Alderman Thomas McGhee and seconded by Alderman Frankie Dakin. The motion was passed by six affirmative votes, with Alderman Chris Ford absent.
City Engineer Darek Baskin said the contract involves a “huge fee” that Millington must expend during the final stages of the Veterans Parkway project.
Because trains cross Church Street when they come through the city, he said the new intersection with Veterans Parkway is close enough to the railroad tracks that traffic must be given ample time to “clear out” of Church and get on the parkway.
When traffic is headed south and backed up far enough, he said, motorists are at a red light on Church and are stopped on the tracks.
He noted that the tracks have a “detector” that sends a signal to the traffic light that a train is coming. By turning the light red on Veterans Parkway and green on Church, he said it allows the traffic to leave Church and get off the tracks before the crossing arms come down.
Baskin said the situation requires one of those “old math questions” to be calculated.
“If a train is headed toward the crossing at 70 mph, how much time do you need to get a car off the track?” he asked rhetorically. “It’s not very involved, but it comes out to 70 seconds.”
So, Baskin said the railroad must install new equipment about a mile and a half out from each end of the crossing, so the traffic light on Church will have enough time to change to get everyone out of the way.
The city engineer recalled that, last year, the railroad company’s initial estimate of the installation cost was $400,000.
“We had given the railroad all of our plans,” he noted. “We had received all of our permit fees. And they came up with the fact that they missed one permit that they had to have, and a cost that was associated with that.”
In October 2012, Baskin said, the previous board members approved the contract for $400,000. But soon after that, the railroad determined that it needed 70 seconds, not 43. So, between October and November, the projected cost increased from $400,000 to slightly more than $650,000.
He noted that, for $5,000, the city hired a “third-party consultant” to review the design and determine ways to cut costs in the signal that the railroad had begun.
“The contract that you have before you here is a new contract for $550,000,” Baskin told the board members. “The railroad required the approval of the new contract, because it was such an increase from the previous contract.”
He said the railroad projects that it will be about 12 to 14 weeks before the new equipment is installed.
In response to a question by McGhee, the city engineer acknowledged that Amtrak is not paying any of the cost. And Alderman Mike Caruthers noted that the railroad has an “additive of 233.85 percent” for its labor.
“That’s approved by the federal government,” Baskin said. “It covers their vacation, overhead, trucks, radios and all the equipment that they have to purchase in order to do the project.”
Caruthers, who was a member of the previous board, said one of its “rationales” for approving the contract last year was that studies had been conducted projecting the future traffic volume on Veterans Parkway.
Baskin said that is why the current board would have two problems if it postponed this project now:
(1) It has a design for the cost of the railroad “preemption,” and it would not be installed.
(2) If something happened at that intersection that was found to be caused by the failure to install the preemption, the city would be liable for that.
Because Millington and the railroad are the two parties to the contract, Alderman Bethany Huffman asked what document states that the city will get back 80 percent of the cost. Noting that it is like any other portion of a “locally managed” project, Baskin said it is approved by the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
“We send them the bill for that,” he said, “and they reimburse us for it.”
In response to a question by Alderman Hank Hawkins, City Finance Director John Trusty said the 20 percent, or $111,000, that the city must pay is included in a “very detailed” list he provided to the board.
“In fact,” he noted, “it’s less than the amount that was in the detailed list that was provided previously, before we decided the amount of debt to sell.”
When Hawkins asked if that will be another “encumbrance” on Millington, Trusty said it is not in excess of what the city was expecting to pay.
In response to a question by Caruthers, Baskin said the design of the preemption was in the original contract for the Veterans Parkway project.
“The fee was not, as I explained,” he acknowledged. “We didn’t get word from the railroad that this fee was going to come into play until late last year. It was a huge cost that came late in the game. But we did contact the state to make sure everything was good, and they said, ‘Yes.’”