Thursday, September 10, 2009

Railroad relents on Illinois platform, tower project

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Union Pacific railroad officials responded to Braeside neighborhood residents' concerns and agreed to move the massive platform and communications tower being built next to the railroad tracks on the south east side of Highland Park, Ill., Pioneer Press reports. City leaders requested a meeting with the railroad company after a group of residents attended the Aug. 24 City Council meeting and spoke against the construction that created an unsightly streetscape along the once heavily tree-lined railway.

The 17-foot wide by 8-foot tall, concrete platform also sparked safety concerns for parents of children who regularly walk under the tracks to Braeside Elementary School.

Adair Fell, who led the residents' fight, was at ease last week as she relayed the news that Union Pacific would remove the platform from next to her front yard on Cherokee Road.

"We are very grateful that the railroad has responded to us," she said. "I felt very strongly from the beginning that if higher level officials (at Union Pacific) knew what this looked like and saw its impact, they'd move it.

"(Union Pacific was) taken aback by it," Adair continued. "One (railroad official) said his heart sank when he saw it and understood why the community fought it.

"It was a complete and utter apology."

Highland Park management analyst Emily Palm said Union Pacific promised to search for a better location outside of the residential neighborhood, or at least, build the communication tower east of the tracks, where it would be less intrusive to homes.

"Union Pacific will have to determine if it's feasible (to move the unit outside of the Braeside neighborhood) within their safety standards," Palm reported. "If they can't, it will move across to the east side of tracks.

Fell added that Union Pacific agreed to restore the heavy landscaping to the way it was before crews cleared the area last month.

Residents and city officials also objected to the fact that Union Pacific built the communications system, which allows trains to travel faster and increases route efficiency, without notifying the city of their plans. The railroad company isn't required to publicize their projects because federal law grants the rail line complete authority to build on their rights-of-way.

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