Railroad ready to reroute around runway extension
By Christin Nance Lazerus firstname.lastname@example.org August 25, 2014 6:12PM
The first details of a tentative deal to redevelop the Gary/Chicago International Airport were released Monday. | Post-Tribune File Photo
Updated: September 27, 2014 6:24AM
GARY — Relocating railroad tracks around the Gary/Chicago International Airport’s proposed runway extension footprint could start as early as late October, officials said Monday.
Attorney Allison Bergman told the Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority board that as long as things are resolved to Canadian National’s satisfaction at an Oct. 17 meeting, CN is prepared to start work on a connector segment to the CSX Gary branch line within days.
“We have a lot of work still to do, but the matters have to resolve are few,” said Bergman, a transportation attorney with Hardwick Law Firm.
CSX is abandoning its Fort Wayne branch line and and relocating to the Gary branch line to avoid crossing Canadian National tracks. The railroad track relocation is necessary to proceed with the extension of the airport’s runway extension, which is expected to cost more than $166 million. It’s currently blocked by CSX tracks which sit atop a berm.
Bergman said the federal Surface Transportation Board approved a regulatory document Aug. 15, which resolves common carrier rights issues on the Fort Wayne branch line.
The board agreed to place previously approved funds to construct the connector to the Gary branch line in escrow to resolve title issues on the land.
“Your obligation is complete when the funds are put in there,” Bergman said. “Any cost overruns will come back to [the board] for approval, or if the project is under budget, you get a refund.”
Interim airport director B.R. Lane called the prospect of starting the project soon “significant.”
Board attorney Lee Lane said both the airport and the railroads are motivated to resolve the issues.
“They want this done as much as we do,” Lane said.
New airport manager
The board also approved the hiring of Delbert Brown as general manager. Brown — who has been working in an interim capacity since Aug. 11 — previously was the director of Detroit City Airport from 2002 to 2010.
AvPorts CEO Ozzie Moore recommended Brown to the board, touting his qualifications in airport management and involvement in community service.
“It was important to me that he understand the issues specific to Gary,” Moore said. “He’s one of the few [managers] in the industry with actual small airport [public-private partnership] experience.”
An audit by the city of Detroit led to Brown’s resignation in September 2010 because it showed that accounting protocols weren’t followed, which could have led to financial problems, and questionable contracts were awarded. Moore was upfront about these concerns, but he said talks with key players during Brown’s time in Detroit showed there was no wrongdoing.
“We were in touch with key players involved in the P3 and auditor, and they were positive about his role,” Moore said. “He had [positive] references from the very people, who — if there were problems — would know if there were.
“It doesn’t in any way detract from the skills he brings to this task.”
Brown thanked the board for hiring him, and he said he’s focused much of his short time in Gary asking questions about purchasing, inventory, communication and other daily operations of the airport.
“I’m trying to look at the budget, in terms of matching up how to simplify purchasing and maintenance,” Brown said. “We have a lot of equipment, but no inventory. We need to keep books on what are we spending on equipment to see if need to replace or even lease. We need to be strategic in all we do.”