Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Chicago area railroad quiet zones on the right track

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It's gotten a little quieter for residents living along the Canadian National Railway in three western suburbs, the Chicago Tribune reports. A long-anticipated quiet zone in Berwyn, Riverside and North Riverside, Ill., went into effect Jan. 28, preventing trains from sounding their horns at nine crossings except in emergencies.

"I'm grateful we don't have to hear that horn anymore," said Berwyn resident and former city alderman Rick Toman, 71, whose home sits less than 20 feet from the tracks near Harlem Avenue. "This is a highly populated area now. The horn wakes people up, sometimes at 3 in the morning."

U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., and railroad representatives announced an agreement for the 2.9-mile quiet zone in March but couldn't move forward with the plan until certain safety upgrades were met at various intersections. All three suburbs contributed $32,000 for upgrades along the quiet zone, including new signs, reconstructed barrier medians and new warning-time circuitry.

Berwyn Ald. Margaret Paul, whose ward includes an area along the CN line, calls it an "almost quiet zone," adding that residents are more upset about trains idling on the tracks in Berwyn.

"The quiet zone will help with the quality of life along the tracks," Paul said. "However, Berwyn residents living two blocks to the north or south have had to endure abandoned diesel engines left idling virtually under their bedroom windows, sometimes for more than 24 hours. The quiet zone eliminates only one of our problems."

Resident Lillian McKenzie, 85, lives across the street from the tracks and said while the quiet zone rules may help her sleep better at night, she too is more concerned about the idling trains near her home.

"You can't open up the windows in the summer," said McKenzie. CN officials "think Berwyn is a train yard. The fumes from the trains seep into our homes and are also polluting the neighborhood."

CN officials have continuously said there are no regulations prohibiting trains from stopping anywhere on the tracks as long as they aren't blocking intersections. CN said trains must idle for crew changes and railroad congestion.

Berwyn officials said they are trying to negotiate with CN on the issue but have been unsuccessful thus far

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