Being stuck by a train at a railroad crossing is a common frustration, but Surface Transportation Board representatives were in the Chicago area this week at the request of local legislators to investigate reports of all-too-frequent traffic back-ups caused by CSX trains blocking arterial streets in Evergreen Park and nearby Chicago neighborhoods.
State Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th) and state Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th), along with state Rep. Fran Hurley (D-35th), Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton and Chicago Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th), signed letters asking for help from Cong. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) and Sen. Dick Durbin at the federal level to resolve the problem.
Cunningham, who said Lipinski and Durbin are backing their efforts to get an STB review, said the problems began in 2013, when CSX took over what is called the Elsdon Line from Canadian National Railroad.
The rail line goes through Evergreen Park, crossing both Kedzie Avenue and 95th Street with crossings a couple of blocks apart, before heading southwest, where it crosses 99th, 103rd Street and 111th streets along Sacramento Avenue.
“Before getting permission from the Surface Transportation Board to take over the line in 2013, they said there would be more traffic on it. But they promised that they would keep trains moving and not block intersections with standing trains. That hasn’t happened,” said Cunningham this week.
“I wish they wouldn’t make these promises if they can’t deliver on them,” said Burke.
While there were no trains in sight when he and Burke visited the crossings in Evergreen Park to talk about the situation, he said he was delayed by a train on 103rd Street.
They both expressed particular concern about the increased possibility of ambulances trying to get to either Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn or Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park.
Burke said the biggest problem seems to be with standing trains, either blocking intersections or causing railroad crossing gates to go down because they are so close.
It was pointed out that one train could, and often does, block both crossings in Evergreen Park. Cunningham said the same thing often happens at the other crossings farther east, where one train can be long enough to block two intersections a mile apart. They said students afraid of being late for school are often seen climbing between stationary train cars at the blocked crossings on 103rd Street.
“We were told they wouldn’t let one train proceed until there is room for it to get into the yard, but it happens too much,” said Burke. “We want to work for our constituents and get something done at the federal level, because that is where the decisions are made,” said Burke, noting that efforts to impose fines in Springfield did not hold up to challenges.
Gail Lobin, a spokesperson for CSX, said in a statement that safety is the company’s highest priority. “Our CSX operationsteam has been working to improve train movements in the Beverly area. In general, CSX and the rail industry, have seen significant operational improvement overall in the Chicago region. There are some remaining areas of congestion, including the Elsdon Line. Recent operational adjustments have been made and we continue to look for the best manner in which to safely and efficiently move goods while also being a good neighbor. We continue to focus on making additional progress to minimize interruptions to residents and the community.”