Carthage sues Union Pacific Corp. over crossings, bridges

CARTHAGE, Mo. — The city of Carthage is suing Union Pacific Railroad Corp., alleging the rail company has failed to maintain several bridges and crossings within the city.

The suit, filed in federal court, cites 17 crossings, including the Oak Street bridge along Route 66. The city is asking the court to find Union Pacific responsible for maintenance and impose fines for its “failure and refusal” to repair the crossings.

The suit cites city ordinances that were adopted in the 1880s and 1890s, when the rails were built, that mandate the rail companies maintain the crossings at their own expense. The ordinances gave Union Pacific, then called Pacific Railway Company, the right of way to the property on which the rails were placed.

“Union Pacific is now contractually obligated to maintain and keep all crossings and bridges at the intersection of its track with the city’s streets and alleys,” the suit states. “Union Pacific also has a common law duty to maintain ‘whatever structures may be necessary to the convenience and safety’ of the crossings.”

City Administrator Tom Short said the city has been going back and forth with Union Pacific since at least 2006 to get the repairs accomplished. The city hasn’t touched any of the railroad crossings or bridges, operating under the assumptions it has no right to do so and that it’s not responsible for the repairs.

“We haven’t gotten a satisfactory answer as to why it isn’t their responsibility,” Short said.

All of the bridges listed in the suit are weight restricted, and one on Sycamore Street has been closed since 2013 after an inspection by the Missouri Department of Transportation found serious deterioration. The department has told the city it can’t be reopened until the necessary repairs are made, the suit states.

Short said the impetus for the lawsuit now is because grant money the city received in 2006 for repairs to the Oak Street bridge is set to expire next year. The grant would provide more than $175,000, but the city hasn’t used any of it because of the dispute with Union Pacific.

MoDOT no longer offers that specific grant program, but the money is still set aside for the project. The city has until September 2019 to use the funds.

Union Pacific did not return a request for comment. Short said he’s hopeful the court will be able to reach a resolution quickly but noted that “suing a large company is not an easy task.”

Rough spots?

Aside from the Oak and Sycamore street bridges, the suit also lists bridges along McGregor, High and Walnut streets. It also lists surface-level crossings on the following streets:

• West Central Avenue.

• River Street.

• Olive Street.

• West Chestnut Street.

• Poplar Street.

• Cedar Street.

• West Macon Street.

• West Centennial Avenue.

• U.S. Highway 71.

• Main Street.

• Vine Street.

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September 2023