WEST BEVERLY — There's perhaps no more maddening experience behind the wheel than waiting for a slow-moving freight train.
The only way it gets worse is if the train stops dead on the tracks — a regular occurrence in parts of Beverly, Mount Greenwood and Morgan Park.
Five elected officials hope to remedy the situation that they contend amounts to a broken promise by Jacksonville, Fla.-based CSX Transportation Inc.
Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th), state Rep. Fran Hurley (D-35th), state Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th), state Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th) and Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton all signed a letter dated Sept. 15 voicing their displeasure with the rail company.
The letters were sent to Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-3rd). The state and municipal lawmakers are hoping their federal counterparts can pressure CSX to fix the problem. If not, they'd like to reopen the company's environmental mitigation assessment, according to the letter.
"They [CSX] just haven't lived up to their end of the bargain," said Cunningham on Tuesday evening.
Howard Ludwig says local leaders are limited in railroad issues:
The bargain in question is CSX's acquisition of the Elsdon Rail Line in early 2013. The rail line runs directly east of Sacramento Avenue and is one of two sets of tracks that bisect the western portion of the 19th Ward.
Admittedly, CSX said rail traffic would increase with its purchase, as rail cars would be shuttled between major hubs near Midway Airport and suburban Riverdale. The trade-off would be that the trains would move quickly, Cunningham said.
He and others were told that trains would not be sent from one yard to the other without a clear path. But that has not been the case, as evidenced by complaints from surrounding residents and others caught waiting for the train, he said.
"Making matters worse, the Blue Island Spur Line, which is also owned by CSX and runs parallel to the Elsdon Line in our communities less than half a mile to the east, has also experienced an increase in traffic and grade crossing blockages," the letter to federal lawmakers states.
For its part, the Village of Evergreen Park has been monitoring both of the CSX tracks since July 2013. Over a two-year span, the suburb logged 66 stopped trains that blocked one or more crossings for at least 10 minutes.
Evergreen Park's data also found that crossings gates went down 128 times with no train present for more than 10 minutes on both the Elsdon and Blue Island Spur lines over the same two-year span.
Just south of 103rd Street, West Beverly residents have also complained that the Elsdon Line has begun serving as a de facto rail yard, as trains sit idling on the tracks "for hours at a time," the letter states.
While these trains stop short of blocking crossings, the locomotives pump exhaust into the surrounding residential neighborhood and flood the area with a heavy, dull roar. Homeowners nearby have complained of at least 53 such incidents from Feb. 1-Aug. 31, according to the letter.
The CSX rail lines also pass by several schools in the area, and the company promised to provide safety classes as part of the recent acquisition. Thus far, signees of the letter say the training has not been completed, and children have begun climbing through trains stopped on the tracks to make their way to school.
The nine-page letter goes on to describe several other ways CSX reneged on its promise. The bottom line is that local politicians feel they were lied to by the railway giant, and they are hoping federal lawmakers can pressure the company do right by their constituents.
"Either CSX misrepresented their intentions to our communities and the STB [Surface Transportation Board] during the application process or they are simply incapable of properly managing traffic on the Elsdon Line," the letter reads.
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