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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Wheaton, Ill., endorses closing Chase Street for rail expansion

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February 14, 2001

Wheaton, Ill., officials have endorsed permanently closing one of its streets at a rail crossing as part of a $100-million plan to add new tracks and upgrades along the Union Pacific line, the Chicago Tribune reports. The City Council approved a resolution calling for closing the Chase Street crossing, just south of Wheaton College.

The closing, which wouldn't happen until next year at the earliest, would give the railroad enough space to install crossovers that would allow trains to switch from one track to another, Union Pacific officials said at the City Council meeting. This would result in more effective use of the tracks by both the railway and Metra commuter rail, the officials said.

The plan still needs approval from the Illinois Commerce Commission.

Three sets of tracks run through Wheaton, but there are only two sets west and east of the city. The railroad wants to install three sets all along the line between River Forest and Geneva. That would keep freight traffic moving regularly and at a higher speed, which would reduce how long drivers wait for trains to pass, the rail officials said.

"As a company, we lose money when trains are sitting," UP director of track maintenance John Klein told the council.

The railroad said it would build a pedestrian underpass at Chase Street.

The proposal brought several neighborhood residents to the meeting, saying that closing Chase Street would divert more traffic onto nearby roads or create a spot in the city to idle trains.

"Let's not make Wheaton a switching yard for the Union Pacific," resident Kevin Carlson told the council.

Council members John Prendiville and Todd Scalzo voted against the resolution. Prendiville said he was worried that the plan would dramatically increase rail traffic through Wheaton. He acknowledged this would be good for the railroad and the greater economy, but not for Wheaton.

But Thomas Zapler, a railroad public affairs director, said about 50 trains go through the city per day, compared with 70 in better economic times. It will take some years just to build to the previous level, he said.

Even if Wheaton had opposed the closing, it would have had limited options, since the railroad owns the right of way at the point where the street crosses the tracks. Work could begin next year, Zapler said.