One thing is certain regarding the proposed acquisition of the EJ&E railroad by Canadian National: it’s not good news at all for Park Forest.
There’s no other way to put it. Representatives from the Village of Park Forest attended a meeting on April 29 with representatives from Canadian National and returned with information provided by CN that clearly demonstrates that most CN rail traffic will be diverted from the Chicagoland Metro area and end up in our back yard. In essence, Park Forest will be become a town cut in half for most of the day, while traffic along Orchard Drive will continue to increase.
Police, fire and Emergency Medical Service response times will also be adversely effected.
If the viaduct under the tracks at Orchard should ever flood…. Well, do the math.
According to information gathered by the Chicago Operating Rules Association (C.O.R.A.) from the October 2007 Canadian National application to the Surface Transportation Board, Forest Park, IL, will see rail traffic decrease to 0 trains per day from 5.4 trains per day, while Park Forest, IL, will see traffic increase from 8.6 trains per day to 31.6 trains per day. The story is even worse in the Joliet and Walker, IL, areas, where rail traffic will increase from 18.5 to 42.3 trains per day. Traffic between East Sidling/Eola and West Chicago will increase from 10.7 to 31.6 trains per day.
Northwest Indiana also suffers if the deal goes through, with rail traffic increasing from roughly 10 trains per day to more than 29 trains per day. Gary, IN, will see traffic increase from 11.8 to 31.8 trains per day.
Where is the extra traffic coming from? Easy — it’s coming from Chicago and municipalities lucky enough to be closer to the Loop.
Compare these numbers with other communities along the current CN tracks inside the EJ&E belt that surrounds the Chicagoland area. The CN tracks that currently run parallel with the Metra Electric Line will lose almost all of their daily traffic. Markham will drop from 19.5 to 2.0 trains per day. Riverdale, Kensington and Wildwood will drop from 8.4 to 2.0 trains per day. Blue Island, which currently sees 14.9 trains per day, will see only one. Tracks in the Chicago Loop will drop from 4.6 and 6.4 trains per day down to zero trains per day. Schiller Park drops from 19.3 to 2.0 trains per day. Hawthorne goes from 4.5 to zero trains per day.
CN acknowledges they received substantial public comment about the increases in traffic. In a Surface Transportation Board Corrected Decision document dated April 23, 2008, CN says "Many commenters suggested that the Board should require CN to install highway/rail grade separations or change rail operations wherever vehicle delays or safety risk would exceed the existing conditions."
CN makes vague promises on this point, saying the Environmental Impact Analysis (EIS) will "address vehicular delays at rail crossings and intermodal facilities due to increases in rail traffic operations as a result of the proposed transaction. Estimates of typical delays will be made for highway/rail at-grade crossings that have an ADT of 2,500 vehicles per day or are within 800 feet of another crossing. Vehicle delay analysis will be done for traffic levels in years 2015 and 2020. Detailed analysis also will be conducted at highway/rail at-grade crossings that have an ADT of less than 2,500 vehicles per day, but have unique circumstances that make such evaluations appropriate."
After the April 29 meeting, Village Manager Tom Mick sent a letter to Secretary Milton Sees and Chief Engineer Christine Reed of the Illinois Department of Transportation. In anticipation of a meeting between Sees and Reed with CN, Mick shared the concerns of Park Forest residents:
In our meetings to date with CN, they have been fairly candid in noting that there are very few, if any, positive impacts that the EJ&E acquisition would result in for our community. In fact, it is the Village’s belief that all of the environmental benefits that might be experienced by the region (traffic congestion, idling engines, economic development, etc.) will come at the burden of Park Forest residents who will have to live with exponential increases in the number of trains (400% increase), train cars (500% increase) and tonnage (700% increase) passing through our Village. These increases noted are conservative estimates by CN and it is the Village’s belief that these figures will increase in the years after the acquisition and, thus, further impact the quality of life for Park Foresters.
Additionally, CN has noted publicly that it plans to move trains through communities in as expeditious a manner as possible, hopefully at train speeds of 30 – 40 miles per hour. Such rates of speed may be impossible in the case of many CN trains traveling through Park Forest as the company is proposing a rail switch connecting a north/south bound CN line with the east/west bound EJ&E line. Trains making the switch from one rail line to the other cannot do so in a safe manner at a speed any higher than 10-15 miles an hour.
Many of the adverse impacts for Park Forest can be mitigated by a grade-separated crossing of the rail tracks intersecting Western Avenue in Park Forest . In our latest meeting with CN officials, it was made clear that they will only move forward with grade-separation projects as mandated by the STB. Further, CN will only fund a small portion of the costs for any required separation projects and request that the rest of the funding burden fall on the Illinois Department of Transportation and the tax payers of Illinois . For an international company with reported profits exceeding 2 billion dollars [sic] in 2007, passing these funding burdens on to tax payers of Illinois hardly seems fair. It is believed that CN’s acquisition of EJ&E will make their business model more efficient and more productive, which will only enhance the bottom line for this company. While CN will make more money and, perhaps, environmentally improve some areas in the Chicago-land region, Park Forest will suffer greatly.
Any way we slice it, Park Forest loses in this transaction, unless CN does the only appropriate thing and builds an overpass or underpass on Western Ave.
The writer is a Park Forest Trustee. The views expressed here are his own and not necessarily those of the Village of Park Forest.