Environmental impact of new suburban rail traffic

FRANKFORT Canadian National Railway says it will allow its trains to avoid congestion in Chicago. But many suburbs strongly oppose the plan.

"It's a little nerve-wracking as a mom and as parents. With more trains, the safety of our children is the number one factor I think," said Kristen Zvomar, Frankfort resident.

This Frankfort family and many others in dozens of suburbs take little comfort in a new government study suggesting ways for minimizing the impact of re-routing freight trains around the city of Chicago.

Communities from Gary, Ind., to Frankfort, Naperville to Waukegan may see train traffic double, triple or even quadruple if the Canadian National Railway is given permission to move many of its trains to the EJ&E line that rings Chicago.

The goal is to reduce chronically clogged rail lines, and thereby decrease transportation costs and time for everything from cars to cucumbers.

"The folks that are affected by the trains there in the city bought their homes knowing, realizing there were that many trains. We chose not to live by that many. So they sort of bought into what they have and now they don't want it anymore," said Ernie Rohr, Frankfort resident.

"Imagine you live in a community with 10 trains a day and five or six are passenger trains and go through in a few seconds. Now you are facing the prospect of 30 to 50 freight trains a day, long trains that take quite a bit of time to go through. That changes the quality of life. How does an ambulance or fire truck get around?" Said Sen. Dick Durbin, (D) Illinois.

The government analysis says a train crossing along Washington Street in Joliet would be the hardest hit by increased rail traffic.

System wide, the report projects the number of accidents at intersections with increased train traffic on the EJ&E line each year might increase from 4.5 to 6.

But on the Canadian Northern lines, the projection is crashes would drop from an average of 6.26 per year to just under four.

The railroad is offering some money to upgrade crossings, but those against the plan say it's not enough.

"We will continue to urge the surface transportation board to take a close look at this and understand what a devastating impact this could have on communities," Durbin said.

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