Sale of EJ&E to Increase Railroad Traffic

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(Photo: Morguefile.com)

Residents Urged to Voice Their Objection

Park Forest, IL—(ENEWSPF)—A proposed sale of the EJ&E Railroad to Canadian National Railway could leave thousands of Park Forest residents facing additional delays on Western Avenue.  If the acquisition of the railroad to Canadian National (CN) is finalized, four times as many trains will make their way through Park Forest each day.   This 400% increase in daily trains (currently: 8; proposed: 32) will only serve to exacerbate the already lengthy delays communters face each day.  In addition to increased noise pollution and debris, each passing train delays motorists an average of 10 minutes, with some delays lasting upwards of 20 minutes or more. These backups often results in traffic congestion and increased safety hazards in nearby residential neighborhoods as motorists try to steer their way around the road block inconvenience. 

As part of its Environmental Impact Study, the national Surface Transportation Board is allowing comments on the proposed plan through February 1st.  The Village is encouraging Park Forest residents who object to this plan to voice their opinions at www.stb.dot.gov.

The direct link is here: Environmental Comments.

Once there, complete all required fields. The Park Forest Docket Number for the STB is 35087. The docket number can be placed in the second box, just to the right of the drop-down menu. The other box and both drop-down menus can be left blank.

Comments should be sent to the attention of Phillis Johnson-Ball, the sixth name down in the next drop-down menu.

CN representatives have assured Village Officials that they will meet with the Village Board and Staff to discuss, and perhaps develop strategies for mitigating, the quality of life impacts apparent to this increased rail traffic.  Once these meetings are established, Village Officials will notify the public and encourage resident comment and participation.  

Any questions about this issue can be answered by calling Village Hall at 748-1129.

Village Manager Tom Mick made the following comments at the site, stressing the need for an overpass at Western Avenue and the construction of sound-proof walls on the north boundary of the Eastgate Neighborhood and the north boundary of neighborhoods on the west side of the Village:

Increased Traffic – CN’s proposed purchase of the EJ&E Railway is projected to increase rail traffic on the Park Forest segment of the railroad by 400 percent, from approximately 8 trains per day to approximately 32 trains per day.  In addition, there is proposed to be a switching yard in Matteson, immediately adjacent to the Village of Park Forest .  The EJ&E has an at-grade crossing in Park Forest on Western Avenue (a State road) and an elevated crossing on Orchard Drive (a local street).  Even today, it is not uncommon for trains for stop or slow considerably as they pass through Park Forest .  This results in delays that often last for as much as 10-15 minutes.  The proposed purchase will increase the number of trains, and therefore the number of times vehicle traffic is delayed due to trains moving through the Village.  We believe it will also delay the duration of those delays as long trains maneuver the switching yard in Matteson and back-up onto the main tracks.  Currently, vehicular traffic on Western Avenue seeks alternate routes to avoid the crossing in that location.  This has significant negative impacts on the Village of Park Forest , our residents and businesses.  Typically, southbound traffic on Western Avenue takes North Street through our Business Park, to Orchard Drive, and then to Westwood Drive back to Western Avenue.  Northbound traffic on Western Avenue takes Westwood Drive to Orchard Drive , then east on North Street back to Western Avenue .   North Street is a local street that runs through our Business Park .  Increased exposure to the businesses in this area might be a positive result, but most of this traffic will not be interested in stopping to conduct business and it will simply delay the traffic that is seeking to patronize the businesses in this area.  Westwood Drive is a residential street and the increased traffic on this street already has a negative impact.  The significant increases in traffic caused by this purchase are of significant concern to the Village and the residents.

Planning is currently underway to make improvements to Orchard Drive that will actually reduce this road from a four-lane cross section to a two lane road.  The underpass on Orchard Drive at the EJ&E tracks is narrow today.  The increased traffic, on a soon-to-be two lane road, will simply re-direct the delays from Western Avenue , a State-maintained road to Orchard Drive , a locally maintained road.  Orchard Drive is also heavily traveled when the Metra commuter trains arrive, and the increased traffic from blocked traffic on Western Avenue will exacerbate an existing problem.  The intersection at Orchard Drive and Westwood Drive is a four-way stop so traffic does not flow smoothly in that location.

Noise – As the EJ&E rail line runs through Park Forest , the adjacent land uses are predominantly residential at the west and end ends, and mixed residential, commercial and industrial in the middle section.  Clearly the increase of train traffic, along with the switching yard that will be located almost immediately adjacent to the west side of Park Forest, will increase the level and frequency of noise interruptions for the residents of Park Forest .  In addition, the Village is currently undertaking a long range planning study to create plans for redevelopment of the Eastgate Neighborhood, located at the east side of Park Forest, between the EJ&E rail tracks and 26th Street.  This is a neighborhood that is already suffering from many conditions of blight, including significant code violations, high incidences of crime, and high percentages of absentee ownership.  The preliminary concept plans for redevelopment of this area call for significant public and private investment to transform this troubled neighborhood to a more upscale neighborhood.  The Village has already invested funds to begin acquiring property to accomplish the goals of this planning study.  Unfortunately, the increased rail traffic and the noise it brings, will make it difficult to attract the kind of developers and homeowners that we have visualized for this redeveloped neighborhood.

Similarly, the Village is financial and staff resources to acquire a vacant school property located at the west edge of the Village.  The north boundary of this property is the EJ&E rail right-of-way.  The property has been in the ownership of a private owner for several years and it is tax delinquent.  The Village has already been successful in attracting new home construction on property just east of this vacant school, and it has long been our goal to continue this new investment in our community on this property.   We have the same concerns with this parcel as described above.  We believe our chances of attracting a developer/builder and home buyers will diminish when they learn of the increased rail traffic proposed for the EJ&E line that will be their northern neighbor.

Economic Development – the residential redevelopment plans described above are an integral part of our economic development plans.  So the concerns raised in the section on Noise are also a concern for our ability to implement our economic development vision.  In addition, we are within a few short weeks of selling the Norwood Square Shopping Center to a commercial developer who plans a major renovation and re-occupancy of this property.  The Norwood Square Shopping Center is located on Western Avenue , with its north property line bounded by the EJ&E rail right-of-way.  The new owner is committed to spending up to $1 million in exterior renovations in the next 12 months, and is likely to spend as much as $5 million on total renovations to the property over the course of the next four to five years.  The success of their efforts to bring new retailers to this shopping center depends entirely on the ability and willingness of customers to access the property.  If customers to the north are discouraged from shopping in this location because of the unpredictability of the train traffic, and the shoppers to the south get fed up with the difficulty of getting into and out of the property because of the back-ups on Western Avenue , the retailers that locate in this shopping center will not be successful.  The Village took the unprecedented action of acquiring this 129,000 square foot, 15 acre shopping center because the former property owner had not paid taxes in over five years.  At this time no property taxes have been generated from this property in about 10 years.  The Village has worked for three years to find this buyer and we plan to do all we can to help them be successful, because their success will have resoundingly positive impacts on the Village as a whole. 

We believe that there are two straight-forward, albeit not simple, solutions to the concerns raised in this communication.  First, require CN to construct an overpass at Western Avenue so no trains will block traffic on Western Avenue .  Second, require CN to build sound-proof walls, similar to those seen on many highways throughout the country, on the north boundary of the Eastgate Neighborhood and the north boundary of our neighborhoods on the west side of the Village.