Since the April 30 groundbreaking for construction of a passenger platform at the old Arcadia train depot, the president of a community organization that has spearheaded the project since its inception four years ago has had her hands full dealing with a number of unexpected issues that delayed construction at the worksite for weeks.
"Work on the depot platform was supposed to start around June 24, but actually started July 1," Our Town Tomorrow President Carol Kelsheimer said. "Unfortunately, during the time they worked, the workers came up with an unforeseen problem. They found a concrete slab which apparently was the old platform that had been covered. With our new platform there had to be drain pipes put in and different things, but with that slab being there they couldn't do all of that."
According to Kelsheimer, work was halted on the platform for three weeks while Union Pacific Railroad, MoDOT, the project's original design engineer and the current engineer, Joe Gabel with Taylor Engineering, put their heads together with Our Town Tomorrow members to come up with a workable solution.
"We had to sit down and get Union Pacific's approval on whatever we decided to do," she said. "That concrete had been there for over 50 years because I think the train stopped coming in 1965 or sometime in the mid-60s. Once a train no longer stops someplace, the platform has to be gotten rid of. Union Pacific and everyone else is in agreement that we will be safe in going ahead and pouring the forms and concrete for the new platform on top of it. They've got the front and back sides of the forms poured and they're putting in the drain lines now, so they're working at a pretty good speed right now."
Bringing an Amtrak stop to the Arcadia Valley has been a work in progress for years and has brought with it headaches, problems, delays and setbacks from the very start.
Amtrak, MoDOT, Union Pacific, the city of Arcadia and members of Our Town Tomorrow began meeting in 2012 to discuss the documents and funding needed to make the Arcadia Amtrak stop possible.
Eventually, the city of Arcadia was one of 11 southeast Missouri committees selected to receive a share of $2.9 million in federal enhancement funds through an 80/20 grant amounting to $330,000 which, along with the $50,000 match provided by the William Edgar Foundation, a $30,000 grant from the Taum Sauk Fund and more than $7,000 in community donations, are being used for the platform’s construction.
At the time the city was awarded the matching grant, the projected cost of the platform’s construction was $314,212.25. Adding a 15 percent contingency, the grand total of the proposed project was expected to come in at $361,344.09. Not included in that amount was the 25-year lease from Union Pacific on the platform grounds and all electrical items, such as lights.
Facing a shortfall at the beginning of the year, State Rep. Paul Fitzwater, R-Potosi, and Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, announced that MoDOT had secured $100,000 in federal transportation funds to complete the Amtrak stop.
Now it's all come down to getting the project completed in the allotted time allowed by MoDOT.
"We're hoping that all the work will be done sometime in October," Kelsheimer said. "MoDOT gives us 90 days from July 1 to have the project complete or we'll have to file for an extension. Right now we're running about 19 days behind, but as we move forward, things that they had built into that timeline have changed some. Like today we were dealing with where the lighting was going to go because of this concrete slab was going to cause a problem.
"I said that I had wanted the lights on the platform to begin with, not along the edge. Now we're working with everybody to get approval to go ahead and move them inside the fence on the platform. I've been told that this will make the job of putting up the light posts faster by doing it that way. So, we're doing things where we can that it will hopefully help us to make up some time — kind of like a train.
"You know, when you're on a train and it's running late because of unforeseen things happening along the way, when they have a long stretch where they're not going to be stopped by a freight train or whatever, they make up a lot of time. So hopefully we'll come close to that 90-day mark without having to get an extension."
After several months of delays and frustration, Kelsheimer said the depot project is finally back on track.
"[Amtrak Project Manager] John Bender from Washington, D.C., along with [Amtrak's Midwest senior manager for government affairs] Derrick James, came down last night with a young lady out of St. Louis who oversees the district of Amtrak stations we're in," Kelsheimer said. "They looked at the project and were very excited about the way everything was coming along. They told me that a lot of the Amtrak people can't wait."
Kelsheimer believes the reality of having an Amtrak stop in the Arcadia Valley is bringing with it some positive changes to the community that has seen hard times since the mining industry left the area decades ago.
"I don't think a lot of people have an inkling of what's going on here," she said. "Empty buildings are being bought. There's about four or five different restaurants that's opening up in the area. The restaurant at Grant's Inn is opening back up, and at the former Aztecas restaurant [former Iron County Presiding Commissioner] Don Barzowski and the Layton boys are putting in a pizza/sports bar type place. Where Ironton Cleaners was, across from the Lutheran Church on Main Street, there's a sandwich shop that's already open; and Tim Sappington has bought two 14-passenger vans to shuttle people between the depot and his motels."
When asked if all the commercial activity can be directly attributed to the new Amtrak stop, Kelsheimer said, "Absolutely. There's just a lot going on — people are getting ready."