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Blocked Railroad Crossings in 19th Ward Get Attention of Federal Lawmakers

By Howard Ludwig | March 8, 2016 8:46am | Updated on March 8, 2016 8:58am
 A sign at 115th Street and Campbell Avenue warns drivers of an upcoming railroad crossing. A trio of federal lawmakers have joined in the push to make CSX Transportation Inc. make good on a promise to improve the flow of rail traffic through the 19th Ward.
A sign at 115th Street and Campbell Avenue warns drivers of an upcoming railroad crossing. A trio of federal lawmakers have joined in the push to make CSX Transportation Inc. make good on a promise to improve the flow of rail traffic through the 19th Ward.
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DNAinfo/Howard A. Ludwig

BEVERLY — A trio of federal lawmakers have joined the chorus of those fed up with trains sitting parked on railroad crossings while blocking traffic in the 19th Ward.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) co-signed a letter dated Thursday to the chairman of the Surface Transportation Board. U.S. Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-3rd) wrote his own letter the next day also with the intent of putting a spotlight on CSX Transportation Inc.'s Elsdon Rail Line.

Durbin and Kirk are asking the regulatory board to "monitor and mitigate the increased amount of blocked grade crossings" on the line that runs directly east of Sacramento Avenue in Beverly and Mount Greenwood.

Lipinski wants the board to extend the June 30 deadline for review of a deal that gave CSX permission to buy the rail line that has since become synonymous with stopped trains clogging traffic.

Meanwhile, Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th) on Monday sent an email to constituents saying their opportunity to submit public comments on the issue had been extended until 5 p.m. Wednesday. O'Shea asked that residents carefully craft emails about how heavy rail traffic on the CSX rail line has made them late for work, missed picking up children from school or other such incidents.

The Far Southwest Side alderman made his initial request for such letters on Feb. 17. Thus far, 60 such complaints have been filed. He said Monday he's hoping to have at least 100 documented cases from residents with issues related to the rail line.

The latest development follows legal action last month from O'Shea along with the mayor of suburban Evergreen Park. Their petition seeks fines and sanctions against CSX for breaking promises made when acquiring the Elsdon line.

CSX has also long owned the Blue Island Spur Line, which runs parallel with Rockwell Street in the 19th Ward. The deal to also buy the Elsdon line saw the Jacksonville, Fla.-based rail conglomerate bisect the neighborhood while also ramping up train traffic, according to state Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th).

The letters from federal lawmakers follow a specific request for such help dating back to Sept. 15 when O'Shea and a coalition of local elected leaders reached out to their counterparts in Washington.

Of specific concern was the blocked crossings on 95th Street that hamper access to Little Company of Mary Hospital in suburban Evergreen Park and Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. Durbin, Kirk and Lipinski all mention this as an issue of relevance in their letters to the board.

For its part, CSX is supposed to break trains into two parts when expecting to block traffic for more than 10 minutes, according to the city. But this hasn't happened, nor has the company submitted its quarterly compliance reports with federal regulators, the city stated after its legal action.

CSX admitted that rail traffic would increase upon buying the Elsdon line three years ago. The trade-off was that trains were supposed to move quickly, as rail cars were shuttled between major hubs near Midway Airport and suburban Riverdale, 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 stopped trains, Cunningham previously said.

Meanwhile, 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 defacto rail yard, as trains sit idling on the tracks "for hours at a time." according to the letter sent to federal lawmakers in the fall.

This letter seems to have resonated with Durbin, Kirk and Lipinski as evidenced by their latest correspondence with the board established to regulate CSX and other rail companies.

"I have heard from residents and met with local and state officials concerning the difficulties caused by these incidents. I fully understand their frustrations," Lipinski wrote in his letter.

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