SHAMOKIN - A unique commercial building may find itself on the wrong side of the tracks while upgrades to the Shamokin Valley rail line continue.

The building at 515 N. Market St. rests between the railroad tracks and Shamokin Creek near Water Street. Originally built as a public restroom, the property has since been home to an insurance company and T-shirt printing company, and is now home to a tattoo artist.

SEDA-COG Joint Rail Authority owns the tracks and is upgrading rail crossings throughout the city in anticipation of a spike in rail traffic. Jeff Stover, the authority's director, said it is considering acquiring and demolishing the building - if the price is right - to enhance visibility and improve pedestrian safety at the site.

"It would be nice to have it out of there. However, if the cost is too high it may not be worth it," he said Wednesday.

That would suit the building's owner just fine.

Dave Lauer has run Sterling Tattoo Co. at the North Market Street building since 2001. He loves the location, is happy with the building's integrity and admires its character.

"I really don't want to move," he said at his shop late Wednesday during a quick break from a tattoo session.

Lauer said he's been in touch with project officials and mentioned there were overtures made to him with regard to eminent domain, which he did not take too kindly.

That said, Lauer's willing to listen to proposals and will do what's best for him, he said, even if he does so reluctantly.

Safety issue

The Shamokin Valley line runs 27 miles between Sunbury and Mount Carmel. It saw 370 cars travel its tracks in 2011, and Stover said early last year that it may see an average of 200 a month as developments on a Ken Deitrick-owned property near Ranshaw continue.

The Joint Rail Authority already has upgraded crossings on Walnut Street near Weis Markets and at the intersection of Rock and Independence streets. The Walnut Street project was completed last year, and the authority will move from west to east to complete upgrades at crossings along the line.

The proposed upgrade at Market and Water streets near Lauer's building won't be as extensive as that on Walnut Street, but there will be flashing lights and a single mast installed.

A standard crossing such as this costs upward of $130,000, said George Fury, Joint Rail Authority property manager. A crossing like that which was built near Weis costs upward of $180,000, he said.

Lauer's building sits on the edge of the exit to a municipal parking lot. Of it, Stover said, "the building really is in the way in terms of visibility."

An appraisal on the building is expected to be completed by month's end, the cost of which was split in half between the city and Joint Rail Authority.

The price to purchase and demolish it will be weighed against alternatives, Stover said.

Improvements to the crossings are funded through federal dollars. As such, there's a June deadline to "commit" to a crossing upgrade, be it at Market and Water streets or elsewhere, said Fury.

The totality of the crossing upgrades in the City of Shamokin could exceed $2.5 million and could stretch over the next decade, he said.

Five lines

The Joint Rail Authority operates five short line railroads in all. Its largest customer in 2012 on the Shamokin Valley line was Shamokin Filler, said Stover. Rail cars headed to and from the Filler plant travel up Carbon Run and don't travel into the downtown.

While developments continue at Deitrick's property, near where Disposal Management Services recently opened a waste transfer facility, eastbound traffic through the downtown will increase, and public safety will be a concern, Stover said.

Trains will average a speed of between 5 and 10 miles per hour as they travel through downtown, he said.

In 2010, a $1 million project was announced for the construction of a 1,500-foot runaround and a 2,000-foot siding, initially said to serve TimberEnd, a wood-processing facility owned by Deitrick. It could also serve any future tenants of Coal Township-SEEDCO Industrial Park.

The runaround and siding project is funded separately from the crossings upgrades in Shamokin.