BEVERLY — CSX Transportation Inc. and area officials met in Washington recently to discuss persistent problems with trains causing massive traffic backups in the 19th Ward — a meeting one lawmaker lamented as filled "with the same old excuses."
The meeting — held by the Surface Transportation Board, a federal agency charged with settling railroad disputes — was attended by State Sen. Bill Cunningham (D-18th) and Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th). State Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th) and James Sexton, the mayor of suburban Evergreen Park, also participated via telephone.
The meeting, held Friday, focused on three issues that have caused concern since the Feb. 8, 2013 purchase the Elsdon Rail Line by CSX. The rail line runs parallel to Sacramento Avenue on the Southwest Side:
• First, the board wanted to know why CSX was having issues sending trains from one end of the line to the other without stopping. The railroad operator had promised when buying the line to make sure the route was clear before any trains would begin down its tracks, Cunningham and O'Shea said.
• The board also wondered why CSX had only broken one train — unhooking boxcars in order to create room for automobiles to get through crossings — since the deal was approved. CSX also promised to break trains for delays lasting longer than 10 minutes.
• Finally, the regulators wanted to know why gate malfunctions continued to be a problem at crossings along the Elsdon line, Cunningham said.
"We traveled to Washington D.C. hoping to hear a series of new proposals from CSX. Instead, we heard the same old excuses," he said Monday.
Tom Livingston, the regional vice president for CSX, did not return a phone call about the meeting.
According to Cunningham and O'Shea, the two hour and forty minute meeting focused largely on why CSX hasn't been breaking trains that come to a stop and block crossings. The railroad has argued such a practice would actually result in longer delays. But board members fired back, saying CSX was responsible for offering up the idea.
"If [breaking trains] is so hard to do, why did you tell us you were going to do it?" said Cunningham, recalling the crux of the meeting.
CSX has said the language used to buy the Elsdon line was taken, in part, from previous deals. The boilerplate language made sense in other instances, CSX argued, but not here, Cunningham said.
As for sending trains along the line unimpeded, CSX blamed other railroad operators for the delays, saying tracks owned by rivals cross the Elsdon line. When one of those trains is in the way, the CSX trains must stop to avoid a collision.
Communication between operators is spotty at best, and thus CSX implied that such delays are beyond its control, Cunningham said.
When it came to malfunctioning gates, CSX pointed to millions of dollars it has invested in new technology. Cunningham said he and O'Shea have heard these claims before, yet the issues persist. The two lawmakers then suggested that CSX visit the Metra Rock Island tracks just east of the Elsdon line.
"We don't have the same issues [with Metra], and there are a lot more trains that run on those lines," said O'Shea, adding that the commuter rail service deals with the same hot and cold weather as well as salt and snowplows at its crossings.
Cunningham and O'Shea said the next step could mean sanctions for the railroad or additional reporting requirements on the Elsdon line.
Regardless, both men were disappointed by the outcome of the meeting which they had hoped would result in offering solutions to the longstanding problems tied to the railroad.
"We came a long way not to hear anything new," Cunningham said.