The power of the railroad

William “Bill” Lutz

Contributing Columnist

All across Miami County, communities have been hard at work making road improvements to make life a little more livable. Streets are being reconstructed, roads widened and there are new spots of asphalt all over the place. The elimination of potholes and wider roads will all make our collective travels around Miami County safer and easier.

Keeping these improvements in mind, it appears that we have stumbled upon a true source of power. A source of power that can do or not do what it wants, when it wants and how it wants. This power is immune to the wishes and desires of communities. You might be thinking that this source of power is the IRS or the FBI. I would dare argue that this institution is more powerful than any government agency, perhaps even more powerful than government itself, it is the modern American railroad.

This summer, the railroads have flexed their muscle, usually to the detriment and the expense of the communities they purport to serve.

Case in point: number one. In August, the Piqua City Commission held their collective noses and passed a measure to paint the East Ash Street bridge at a cost of nearly $225,000. The City Commission was pretty upset that the railroad company isn’t paying to paint the bridge (even though they are the only one to use it) and has no plans to paint it either. Other ideas, such as putting a removable banner over the bridge, were also nixed — by the railroad.

To add insult to injury, there are other issues as well. The city is going to have to pay for traffic maintenance while the bridge is painted. The railroad doesn’t need to disclose environmental issues. Also, if the city wants to even touch the bridge, the railroad operators have to be on site.

Basically, that means when the city is painting the bridge and you see guys looking at workers, those aren’t city workers standing around. Those would be the men and women of the railroad.

Case in point: number two. This past week, residents and travellers to the city of Troy were greeted with the unwelcome sight of orange barrels along South Market Street as the railroad was making improvements to their line. Now of course, improvements to their line are expected and necessary. But the timing could not have been worse.

Closing down South Market Street at pretty much the same time when traffic is choked off across the North Market Street bridge has made getting from one side of town to the other an exercise in patience. And the bigger issue is that there seemed to be no advance warning.

Local authorities have done a really good job in the recent past putting up signage letting people know when a road or an intersection is going to be out of commission for any period of time. By reading these big orange signs, you have an idea of what road is going to be closed, how long it is going to be closed and even a phone number or website address for more information.

I am not trying to go on an overly negative diatribe against railroads. Railroads still play a fundamental role in getting products across our country. Living on the east side of Troy, I pass over a railroad everyday and see all sorts of building materials and raw products move across this great nation.

But there is something to be said about being a good neighbor and doing the right thing. More often than not, our local governments do a good job of treating the needs of residents and business interests in a cohesive, yet, delicate balance. The decisions any local government has to make aren’t easy, but it can’t be argued that the needs of the entire community are not taken into consideration.

Yet, with railroads, their behaviors show a different narrative. Railroads appear to have no problem to think about their own needs and desires through a very narrow lens; the needs and the fiscal restraints that our local communities have are really of no consideration or consequence to those who operate our nation’s railroad system. Not exactly the behavior of a good neighbor.

William “Bill” Lutz

Contributing Columnist

William “Bill” Lutz is executive director of The New Path Inc. He can be reached at

William “Bill” Lutz is executive director of The New Path Inc. He can be reached at