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Blocked Railroad Crossings in 19th Ward Are Unacceptable, Feds Tell CSX

 The federal Surface Transportation Board said CSX Transportation Inc. needs to improve the flow of trains through the Southwest Side.
The federal Surface Transportation Board said CSX Transportation Inc. needs to improve the flow of trains through the Southwest Side.
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DNAinfo/Howard A. Ludwig

BEVERLY — Federal regulators told CSX Transportation Inc. Wednesday that it's unacceptable for its trains to block railroad crossings in the 19th Ward.

Because of ongoing problems with blocked railroad crossings on the Far Southwest Side, the operator of the Elsdon Rail Line will have to spend another year answering to the feds about its efforts to resolve them.

The decision was handed down by the Surface Transportation Board, which approved CSX's purchase of the line that runs parallel to Sacramento Avenue on Feb. 8, 2013. At the time, railroad admitted that traffic would increase on the line by 10-20 trains per day, the board said.

The tradeoff was that trains would move along briskly, and the trains would only be sent if there was a clear path to an adjoining rail yard, the railroad said at the time. The estimated average wait time for vehicles at railroad crossing was supposed to be just 2.6 minutes, according to the board.

But area residents have reported delays of nearly an hour in many cases, as trains frequently come to a dead stop on the tracks. This not only snarls vehicle and pedestrian traffic but also restricts access to the nearby Little Company of Mary Hospital and Advocate Christ Medical Center.

"We are not asking for much, just be a good neighbor," Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th) said Thursday.

O'Shea was among a group of lawmakers that included state Rep. Fran Hurley (D-35th), state Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th), state Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th) and Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton who turned to the federal regulators for help on Feb. 12.

As a result to the local legal action, the feds have mandated that CSX continue to file monthly reports on the status of the Elsdon Line as well as any problems that occur, including any crossings blocked that last more than 10 minutes.

The reporting deadline that has since been extended was part of the original agreement to acquire the line but was set to expire, an official from O'Shea's office said.

"The board has allowed CSX more than enough time to address the many problems that have arisen on the line since the application was approved three years ago," an excerpt from the board's 10-page decision reads.

The federal decision goes on to say that CSX must be held accountable to promises that were made at the time that its takeover of the Elsdon Line was approved, including sending trains along the line at an appropriate speed and without stopping.

The Surface Transportation Board did not set up any sanctions should CSX continue to block crossings. Still, O'Shea hopes the problem will subside now that the regulators have acknowledged the issue.

He stopped short of claiming victory and added that should problems continue, the next step would be to work to impose penalties on the railroad.

In an email to constituents, O'Shea asked residents to contact his office with reports of blocked crossings that extend beyond 10 minutes going forward.

"This is a step in the right direction," he said.

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