Tuesday, February 16, 2016

CSX accused of blocking crossings in Chicago's Mt. Greenwood Area and Evergreen Park Crossings

The city of Chicago and Evergreen Park are asking a federal agency to consider fines or other sanctions against CSX Transportation over an ongoing issue of the company's freight trains blocking railroad crossings on the city's Southwest Side and in adjacent suburbs such as Evergreen Park.

In their petition filed with the Surface Transportation Board, they're hoping to show the railroad hasn't lived up to conditions that board laid out in a 2013 agreement allowing CSX to take over operation of the line, which passes through Chicago communities including Beverly and Mount Greenwood.

It's the latest volley in a fight that has frustrated residents and local officials, who consistently hear about stopped trains or crossing gates that remain down after a train has passed. Trains stopped and idling near homes for hours at a time, although not blocking crossings, also are a routine occurrence, residents said.

"The little guys need a voice," Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton said Monday after the filing.

The problems center on the Elsdon line, which CSX acquired in the summer of 2013 after agreeing to terms the STB set down that were meant to avoid the problems of blocked crossings. CSX had told area officials once it acquired the line that train traffic would increase, but that slow or stopped freights wouldn't be an issue, state Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, said Monday.

He said there are quiet periods when he does not hear of any trouble, but other times when numerous complaints come in.

"It comes in bunches," he said. "It's like when it rains, it pours."

Chicago Ald. Matt O'Shea, 19th Ward, said officials had "tried to work cooperatively" with the railroad but "we have very little to show for that effort and are now forced to take more serious action."

Cunningham and O'Shea noted that the railroad is required, under the 2013 agreement with the STB, to break trains into two parts when a blockage is expected to exceed 10 minutes. They said that has happened just once since that agreement went into effect, and O'Shea said that CSX, in quarterly reports its files with the board, has "grossly under-reported" grade crossing issues.

Still, the alderman noted that "railroad companies being held accountable is very difficult."

Police in Evergreen Park, however, have been keeping detailed records the past few years of blocked crossings, which will help buttress the petition with the STB, said Allison Fultz, an attorney with the Washington, D.C., firm Kaplan, Kirsch & Rockwell, which filed the paperwork.

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