The Plainfield Sun - Rail Gridlock on Plainfield's Mind
Plainfield officials have enlisted the support of a federal ally in their quest to avoid traffic gridlock if Canadian National is approved to buy the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway.
On Monday, U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Hinsdale, and village officials toured some of the railroad crossings that could be exponentially busier if the CN purchase is approved by the Surface Transportation Board.
"This is the first time we've seen a merger of this kind in a densely populated area," Biggert said, who added she'd like to get members of the STB out to ride the EJ&E rails. "I have real concerns about it."
As it is, traffic backs up daily at the village's 16 street-level crossings along the EJ&E tracks. If the sale goes through, there could be a train rumbling through Plainfield every 20 minutes, Mayor James Waldorf said.
Last fall, a stalled train blocked several intersections for 45 minutes on a weekday afternoon, prompting Plainfield School District to call parents to tell them buses would be late.
"Their proposal could shut down the community each time a train goes through," said Plainfield Police Chief Don Bennett. "And traffic may not recover before the next train comes through."
If the sale is approved, Canadian National plans to reroute freight train traffic around congested Chicago tracks on the EJ&E line, which could triple the number of trains at some crossings each day.
Officials would like the board to require Canadian National to fund fixes that would route traffic over or under railways, alleviating concern about emergency vehicle access and potential traffic jams.
Canadian National is offering to pay 10 percent, or $40 million, of needed grade crossing work.
Biggert and Waldorf said they were not sure Canadian National would be willing to do much more to help communities deal with the congestion.
"They talk a good game, but we haven't seen any commitments made," Waldorf said. "I have yet to see a decision made, or anything confirmed except that they want to get the deal done and start running those trains."
Focus on solution
Canadian National officials have said instead of blaming their company for potential traffic gridlock, local officials should focus on solving their transportation problems.
The acquisition would not negatively affect Amtrak's access to Union Station or Metra's STAR Line -- which was planned to connect suburbs to O'Hare International Airport on the EJ&E tracks -- according to CN officials.
Canadian National has said Metra can build its own adjacent STAR line tracks. But it's possible the passenger line could share a track with the EJ&E.
Plainfield has already joined a coalition of communities and counties called TRAC: The Regional Answer to Canadian National, which has been researching the potential impacts of the sale.
Because of the aggressive opposition to the plan from affected communities, the STB decided to do an environmental study of the sale. The board's report could be released in December.