Park Forest to be cut in half after CN acquisition of EJ&E

Canadian National in Chicago

One thing is certain regarding the proposed acquisition of the EJ&E railroad by Canadian National: it’s not good news at all for Park Forest.

There’s no other way to put it. The municipality, which is about 30 miles directly south of Chicago’s Loop, would most likely be cut in two unless CN builds either an overpass or and underpass at the railroad crossing on Western Avenue.

Representatives from the Village of Park Forest attended a meeting on April 29 with representatives from Canadian National and returned with information provided by CN that clearly demonstrates that most CN rail traffic will be diverted from the Chicagoland Metro area and end up in Park Forest’s back yard. In essence, Park Forest will be become a town cut in half for most of the day, while traffic along Orchard Drive will continue to increase.

Police, fire and Emergency Medical Service response times will also be adversely effected.

If the viaduct under the tracks at Orchard should ever flood…. Well, do the math. Orchard Drive is the only access to the north end of town from the police department and fire station.

According to information gathered by the Chicago Operating Rules Association (C.O.R.A.) from the October 2007 Canadian National application to the Surface Transportation Board, Forest Park, IL, will see rail traffic decrease to 0 trains per day from 5.4 trains per day, while Park Forest, IL, will see traffic increase from 8.6 trains per day to 31.6 trains per day. The story is even worse in the Joliet and Walker, IL, areas, where rail traffic will increase from 18.5 to 42.3 trains per day. Traffic between East Sidling/Eola and West Chicago will increase from 10.7 to 31.6 trains per day.

Northwest Indiana also suffers if the deal goes through, with rail traffic increasing from roughly 10 trains per day to more than 29 trains per day. Gary, IN, will see traffic increase from 11.8 to 31.8 trains per day.
CN Rail Map
The map on the left details the shift in rail traffic in the Chicagoland area. Click here for full-size PDF . (Graphic: CORA)

Where is the extra traffic coming from? Easy — it’s coming from Chicago and municipalities lucky enough to be closer to the Loop.

Compare these numbers with other communities along the current CN tracks inside the EJ&E belt that surrounds the Chicagoland area. The CN tracks that currently run parallel with the Metra Electric Line will lose almost all of their daily traffic. Markham will drop from 19.5 to 2.0 trains per day. Riverdale, Kensington and Wildwood will drop from 8.4 to 2.0 trains per day. Blue Island, which currently sees 14.9 trains per day, will see only one. Tracks in the Chicago Loop will drop from 4.6 and 6.4 trains per day down to zero trains per day. Schiller Park drops from 19.3 to 2.0 trains per day. Hawthorne goes from 4.5 to zero trains per day.

CN acknowledges they received substantial public comment about the increases in traffic. In a Surface Transportation Board Corrected Decision document dated April 23, 2008, CN says “Many commenters suggested that the Board should require CN to install highway/rail grade separations or change rail operations wherever vehicle delays or safety risk would exceed the existing conditions.”

CN makes vague promises on this point, saying the Environmental Impact Analysis (EIS) will “address vehicular delays at rail crossings and intermodal facilities due to increases in rail traffic operations as a result of the proposed transaction. Estimates of typical delays will be made for highway/rail at-grade crossings that have an ADT of 2,500 vehicles per day or are within 800 feet of another crossing. Vehicle delay analysis will be done for traffic levels in years 2015 and 2020. Detailed analysis also will be conducted at highway/rail at-grade crossings that have an ADT of less than 2,500 vehicles per day, but have unique circumstances that make such evaluations appropriate.”

Any way we slice it, Park Forest loses in this transaction, unless CN does the only appropriate thing and builds an overpass or underpass on Western Ave.

(Photo: CN)