Davenport city officials are working with the Canadian Pacific Railway to plan improvements after the company raised its tracks to avoid floodwaters along the Mississippi River. The decision is raising safety and accessibility concerns as well.
The tracks run along the Mississippi River, between the city's downtown and a riverfront park, and portions of the rail are still underwater, even after workers lifted the rail and packed crushed rock underneath. Local officials are concerned the new height of the railroad crossings could block access to the waterfront, and may pose safety issues.
While Canadian Pacific officials did notify the city of their intentions to eventually raise the tracks, city leaders say the company didn’t alert them before they started work late last month, according to Assistant City Administrator and Public Works Director Nicole Gleason.
"Canadian Pacific Railroad notified the city in mid-March that there were future intentions to raise rail. There was not a projected start date given," Gleason said in a written statement. "Work commenced on raising rail crossings on Thursday, March 28th without prior notice given to the city. As of today, we believe rail has been raised at various locations from Perry [Street] to Marquette [Street]."
Gleason says the railroad has broad authority over its tracks and isn't required to notify the city of these changes. But Downtown Davenport Partnership Director Kyle Carter says the company should've coordinated more with local leaders. He says not doing so could set a concerning precedent.
“Is that 20 inches the end of the world? I don’t know. But what I think is more concerning is acting without consulting the community that it affects," Carter said. "I think that is what is most concerning. And I’m hopeful that leadership at the railroad and the City are able to figure that out. I know that they have done so in other cities and I have faith that they will again. But I think it came as a surprise to a lot of people."
Canadian Pacific spokesman Andy Cummings says raising the tracks in downtown Davenport was necessary to keep its cargo moving during "current and future flooding events."
"CP’s engineering team met with the city in advance of the start of work and has sought to keep city staff apprised. That communication is ongoing. CP has committed to the city that approaches to the crossings in downtown Davenport will be upgraded to their satisfaction. That will include ensuring continued access across the tracks to the riverfront," Cummings said in a written statement.
Cummings says the work will continue "until the city is satisfied." He also says the company would stop operations if workers determine conditions are no longer safe.
"CP closely monitors rail lines affected by floodwaters to ensure safe operations. Additionally, when water levels reach the top of the ties, track inspections are conducted after each train. If CP observes a condition that could compromise safety it will immediately halt train traffic until the issue is remedied," Cummings' statement reads.
Officials for the city of Davenport and Canadian Pacific say they've been working together to plan improvements to the crossings to ensure public access to the riverfront once the floodwaters go down.
In the meantime, the flooding has inundated LeClaire Park, turned the Modern Woodmen Baseball Park into something of an island and crept into parking lots and basements. But downtown Davenport business leader Carter says at this point the flooding is largely an inconvenience, rather than a grave threat.
"Downtown Davenport's open. All of our businesses are operating. While it's a little more challenging to get around, we're dry for the most part and just going about our business," he said.