Thursday, September 17, 2009

Park Forest, Ill., CN reach agreement

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The village of Park Forest, Ill., and Canadian National Railway have reached an agreement on mitigation measures related to CN's recent acquisition of the old EJ&E Railroad, but not all residents are happy with the deal, the Southtown Star reports.The Park Forest Village Board approved the agreement, under which CN will give the village more than $7 million to help with traffic congestion, noise, and other issues stemming from the EJ&E deal.

Park Forest Mayor John Ostenburg called the agreement a win for both sides, and a spokesman for CN agrees.

"This is the 19th community out of 33 communities up and down the EJ&E to agree, and we see this as moving forward and fulfilling our pledge to work with communities and address their individual needs," CN spokesman Patrick Waldron said.

Other Southland towns to reach deals with CN include Matteson, Richton Park, Frankfort, Chicago Heights and Mokena.

CN will give nearly $2.5 million to reconstruct Orchard Drive from Lincoln Highway north to Lakewood Boulevard. The railroad will repave and relight the commuter parking lot at Homan Avenue and Hickory Street. It will also build a switch rail from the east/west rail line to the north/south line.

CN said an average of seven freight trains pass through the village now, though that number will soon increase to about 30 trains a day.

That has some neighbors concerned.

Katie Armstrong was one of two residents who said Monday they are worried about the environmental impact the increased freight traffic could have on the village.

"We're going to be saddled with this -- It is a hazard and we're going to have to be living with that hazard," said Armstrong, a 50-year-resident of Park Forest.

Resident Nancy Labb said the agreement is probably too late.

"It's nice to have signs -- and paving in a parking lot, but what is nicest of all is to keep the community safe for its citizens," Labb said.

While Ostenburg said the village board shares some of those environmental concerns, it can only focus on what it has jurisdiction over, including things such as the placement of signs and sound barriers.

CN also pointed out the freight cars traveling the tracks along Park Forest will not just be hauling chemicals. They will be carrying lumber, automotive equipment and furniture, and all freight will be carefully monitored.

"In terms of just overall regulation, we're regulated by the Federal Railroad Administration which has very specific and extensive rules about the transportation of any good," Waldron said.

Armstrong said she hopes the decision made by both parties turns out all right. In situations like this, she said it comes down to using "ecological wisdom."

"We need to do everything necessary to make sure in the long term our planet is clean for our children and grandchildren," Armstrong said. "Freight trains are not a green thing. They're dirty."

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