A delegation of railroad officials told Evergreen Park leaders last Monday of their plans to gradually but significantly increase the volume of local rail traffic that rolls past the front door of Village Hall.
Specifically, CSX Transportation (CSXT) officials announced that pending an anticipated federal approval, rail traffic will increase from the current four trains a day to as many as 23 trains daily over the next several years, drawing gasps from a few audience members and concerns from several trustees.
Tom Livingston, CSXT Regional Vice President - Midwest Government Affairs, said the planned increase would be phased in over a five year period starting in mid-2013.
CSXT officials claimed that the increase in local rail traffic will be minimally disruptive---noting that their trains typically move at a 35-40 mile-per-hour clip; that a train will take only about two and a half minutes at a typical grade crossing, and that the plan calls for the trains not to be hindered by the slowdowns or stop/starts characterized by other rail companies.
CSXT officials do not need the formal approval of village officials and were not asking for any, but said they were there as a good neighbor essentially paying a courtesy call.
Village officials voiced several concerns about the planned increase. One major concern of Mayor James Sexton and others was increased rail traffic hampering response times and effectiveness of first responders like firefighters, paramedics and police.
The mayor spoke about the importance of 95th Street as a major path for ambulances to Little Company of Mary Hospital, as well as Advocate Christ Hospital and Medical Center in Oak Lawn, the area’s only Level I trauma center.
Even though Livingston said there was a way to call CSX to have the train stopped and cars unhooked in an emergency, Sexton said, “First responders don’t have time to make calls.”
Livingston only had a one word reply to Sexton, when Sexton asked if the railroad company considered building an underpass, “Yes.”
The trains would run seven days a week, except during weekday rush hours, 5 to 9 a.m. in the morning and 4 to 7:30 p.m. in the evening. Trustee Mark Marzullo indicated rush hours started earlier in Evergreen Park and invited train officials to observe traffic at 3 p.m.
In response to Trustee Mary Keane’s question on what the train cars would be carrying, John Bradley, Chicago division chief, explained the cars would include materials such as electronics or supermarket items—essentially the same as they carry now.
“I lived close to railroad tracks,” added Trustee James McQuillan in a concern he voiced about the length and weight of the freight cars, “and you could tell when they were loaded with something heavy. The whole house shook.”
Livingston responded by saying CSXT wants to maintain a quiet zone and would weld the tracks together to reduce train noise. The process usually takes two weeks for each section of track welded together. The whole operation would occur over a few years.
Rail officials pledged to stay in contact with hospitals and emergency personnel about the train schedules, which can change every few months.
“We’re confident we can make this work,” Livingston said.
Nearly three months ago, CSX submitted an application to the federal Surface Transportation Board “…to acquire a 22.37-mile exclusive, perpetual nonassignable railroad operating easement” that runs between Chicago’s Southwest Side (the Elsdon Yard) and Munster, Indiana, from the Grand Trunk Western Railroad Company.
According to the CSX application, “the benefits of the proposed transaction will be CSXT's more efficient operation in the Chicago Terminal, saving CSXT in excess of $2 million per year and reducing congestion on other lines within the Chicago Terminal that CSXT is using today.”
CSX’s application notes that its trains typically have an average train length of 5,400 to 6,000 feet and an average weight of 5,500 to 6,300 tons per train. “CSXT does not expect that the rerouting of trains from their current routes to the Elsdon Line will result in material changes in average train length, average tonnage, or commodity profile,” their application states.