Idle freight trains block crossing, cause public safety concerns in Big Rock

April 10, 2014 (BIG ROCK, Ill.)

Traffic on the nation's freight railroads is exploding, and in the small town of Big Rock which sees 30 freights every day, they think that's great - but not when some of them have to park on a siding and block the only crossing in town.

Trains have always been part of life in Big Rock, though now they are more frequent, and longer. Apart from the mainline here, there is also a siding where the Burlington-Northern Santa Fe often has to stage, or temporarily park its trains, which means that Big Rock's single crossing gets blocked, sometimes for 45 minutes and more, say residents.

"They'll sit there as long as somebody will not complain about it," said Dean Hummel, Big Rock Village President.

In fact, many in this village of 1,100 have complained to the BNSF. The situation will briefly improve, they say. Then it worsens again.

"If this were Naperville or another community, there's no doubt in my mind that this would not be happening," said Tim May, Big Rock village clerk.

The issue is not merely aggravation, it's also life safety. Big Rock's volunteer firefighters and its full-time ambulances are reliant on this crossing. If the crossing is blocked, emergency responders have to go three miles west or three miles east.

"Just last week we had one where we were delayed nine minutes from a normal response," said John Ruh, Big Rock Fire Chief.

Big Rock's fire department is on the south side of the tracks. The middle school and highway 30 are on the north side, and so is Kaneville and 11 miles of Interstate 88 that Big Rock contracts to cover.

"We don't want to lose anyone because of a lack of response time, and that's our fear," said Ruh.

On Thursday morning a freight on the siding blocked the crossing for only nine minutes. Crews broke the train in two. The crossing was free. The BNSF says it is "...sensitive to the concerns in Big Rock," met with its leaders, has "imposed a moratorium" on prescribed morning and afternoon use of the siding, and that "...we agreed to break any train that stopped on the crossing for an extended period of time."

Village leaders say that's not been consistent.

"It's gonna take somebody getting hurt before somebody steps up," said Hummel.

The school superintendent, in a statement to Eyewitness News, said that when the crossing is blocked "the safety of our students is put at risk." The village and railroad disagree over the number and duration of the blockages.

A BNSF spokesman Thursday afternoon said there have only been a handful over the last six months, and some of those were weather-related.

The solution would be a proposed overpass down the road, for which no one has the money.

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