Haydn Street crossing ruled closed a fourth time

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By Correne Martin

The Haydn Street railroad crossing in Prairie du Chien was ordered closed two years ago by the Wisconsin railroad commissioner, for the third time. Even after a fourth decision, last summer by the circuit court, to dismiss an appeal and close the crossing, it remains open today.

The two mainline tracks and the nearby spur track intersecting with Haydn Street have been in question for more than 15 years.

The first decision to close the crossing was made by the commissioner in 2001. Because nearby business owner Keith Coburn, of Frazier’s Old Faithful Inn, felt it would adversely affect his business to close the crossing, he’s exercised his rights and kept fighting the railroad for a decade and a half.

In more recent years, the crossing was ordered closed to public travel by March 1, 2014, following a January 2014 ruling. According to court documents, Coburn filed a petition in 2014 for judicial review of the case. Coburn stated he wanted a judicial review so a neutral party could hear the case, rather than the Office of the Commissioner of Railroads, which proposed a decision to close the crossing in October 2013.

But on July 15, 2015, Crawford County Circuit Court Judge James Czajkowski dismissed Coburn’s petition due to “defective service.”

“Basically, my attorney failed to file my appeal properly,” Coburn said. “It was supposed to go by United State Postal Service certified mail to assure personal delivery and he sent it off on a FedEx truck. So we didn’t lose; it’s important that people know that.”

When Coburn appealed the order dismissing his petition, the Court of Appeals answered with another decision and order, on Aug. 25, 2015, affirming the circuit court’s dismissal.

The order explained, “If we allow this instance, we see no stopping point, and all such services would have to be considered adequate for service in all cases. This exception would swallow the statute.”
“There are consequences to everybody who’s a player in this. The appellate court says this cannot be reversed,” Coburn added. “Now I just wait for damages before I can sue. I’d just as soon get it over with; I’ve spent 15 years of my life on this.”

In the meantime, the crossing has remained open, even through the 2014 Marquette Road construction, by which time it was supposed to be closed. The new Nelson True Value was constructed and opened last fall near the Haydn Street crossing. No significant upgrades have been done to the crossing, at least since 2014.

“Obviously, the public safety concerns they noted are out the window,” Coburn commented, referring to the railroad’s statistics, from 2014, that there are 900 vehicular trips per day over the crossing and 40 trains per day passing at 50 mph.

Tom Clauder, with the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Railroads, confirmed Monday that the crossing has been ruled for closure and that the commissioner has signed the ruling.

“Now, [BNSF has] to pick the ball up and run with it,” Clauder stated.

So what might the timeline for the crossing’s closure be? Amy McBeth, regional director of public affairs for BNSF, explained that the Office of the Commissioner of Railroads needs to update the order to reflect all of the most recent proceedings. She said BNSF will be communicating with the OCR, then, in determining a timeline, as one has not been set at this time.

For Coburn, moving forward, he will continue looking into any legal action he can. He said he was made aware that the railroad commissioner resigned recently and he plans to talk to the new one soon.

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