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Blocked Train Crossings Creating Traffic Headaches in Plainfield

Blocked crossings can mean hassles for drivers — and even bigger problems in the event of an emergency.

A CN train blocks a Plainfield crossing on Saturday, Feb. 15. Credit: Paul Fay
A CN train blocks a Plainfield crossing on Saturday, Feb. 15. Credit: Paul Fay
If you drive through Plainfield with any frequency, you're probably used to having to stop and wait for trains to pass.

But what happens when a train simply stops on the tracks? That's a situation that's happening more and more frequently, according to officials.

On Saturday, village trustee Paul Fay alerted Patch to a train stopped for more than 30 minutes, splitting the village in half.

According to Fay, Eastern Avenue, Route 126 and Naperville Road were blocked — making it impossible to get from one side of Plainfield to the other for passenger vehicles and, even more troubling, emergency responders.

"It stopped dead on the tracks," Fay said. "If one of our residents has an emergency and calls paramedics, they're not going to get there. It's unacceptable."

The long delay was also a hazard for Fay, who is diabetic.

"My blood sugar was actually dropping and I had nothing to eat in the car," Fay said.

Fay said he called CN police twice to ask about the issue. The first time, an officer told him he couldn't occupy the emergency lines with Fay's call, the trustee said. The second time, an officer chalked the problem up to mechanical issues.

Plainfield Police Chief and PEMA Director John Konopek said CN officials are telling the village that mechanical glitches are behind the recent delays.

"With the way this winter has been, we have seen an increase in the number of times the trains are stopping on the track," Konopek said. According to CN, he said, the problem is a sensor that is incorrectly indicating a problem on the track.

"By law, they have to stop and check," Konopek said. Due to the increasingly frequent stops, Konopek said he plans to request a meeting with CN to discuss what can be done.

"There's got to be a better way" to reduce the number of incidents, Konopek said. "My concern is if they're getting that many indications of a problem when there isn't," there may be a problem with the sensor, he said.

On Monday, a Plainfield Patch Facebook fan said she got stuck at the Van Dyke Road crossing for more than 20 minutes.

"It is totally unacceptable that CN had no regard for the communities in which they transport through," the reader wrote. She said she called the CN emergency line, only to be put on hold for more than 10 minutes before being told it would take another 20 minutes to get the train going.

"Who are they to be able to shut down an entire community from transportation?" she said. 

Last year, village trustee Jim Racich expressed concern over trains stopping and simply parking in the middle of the village.

"I live in Wallin Woods," Racich said. "I can see the railroad tracks. On more than one occasion, I saw the train parked between Lockport Street and Renwick Road."

Racich said he was concerned about trains transporting hazardous materials through the village, particularly with the proximity of the train tracks to local schools.

"If one of them ever explodes, it's going to take out the high school," Racich said. "It would be a devastating situation."

Generally, Konopek said, trains are halted for about 20 minutes so that CN can check the sensors.

"Twenty minutes can really back up traffic," he said.

A Canadian National rep did not immediately return a call from Patch on Monday.
Kristine Neumann February 18, 2014 at 12:57 PM
Tania, I used to live in Riverside. The train traffic was horrible to say the least. Many, many freight trains. Just this morning there was a problem with a freight train in the Cicero yard & no trains were going into the city. I was stuck because of the trains in Riverside more times than I care to count. On top of that MacNeal hospital is right by the tracks. The train traffic here is a piece of cake compared to Riverside/Bewyn.
Brandy Cipra Fanter February 18, 2014 at 01:10 PM
I was stuck by the train yesterday...thankfully we were not in an emergency but when I called CN and was put on hold for 10 minutes and told it would be another 20 before the train moved I went crazy! They had a technician out there within 7 minutes of me sitting there. So, they either knew it was going to stop or their maintenance crew lives in the woods!
Plainfield Independent February 18, 2014 at 01:20 PM
I'm glad this issue is getting the attention of our local officials. It's unfortunate that Trustee Fay is taking photographs from the driver's seat of the vehicle. A dangerous thing to do especially if the vehicle is in motion.
Ericus Alanas February 18, 2014 at 01:37 PM
the trains have always been here. "build a bridge" will be your only option. P I, what kind of special are you, it was stopped due to the train being... stopped?
Kristine Neumann February 18, 2014 at 01:47 PM
Ericus, yes the trains have always been here. However, the train traffic has increased.
Linda Fariello Henderson February 18, 2014 at 01:49 PM
Here's what I was told on 1/17 from CN Railroad when I complained about the crossing at 127th and Rt 30: January 17th, 10:30pm I live in Plainfield IL. I want to ask you why the trains that come through our town go so slow? Weird question, right? Well, when a 70 car CN railroad train comes through at 5:30 (during rush hour) blocking crossings and causing hundreds of cars to back up east and west, it causes a lot of problems for residents. We can't get home, we can't get our kids to their sports, we can't get to Rt 30 to go to the nearest hospital, we can't move. The trains go slow, stop, back up and then move again. If it's track switching, then maybe scheduling needs to be done during the early a.m. hours when residents are in homes, off roads. I understand the benefit of the rail system, don't misunderstand me, but better planning and schedules need to be reviewed not only for Plainfield, but for all NW Illinois towns that your freights go through. Thanks for listening.. CN SAID: January 21st, 8:14am Thank you, Linda, for your message. We understand that rail crossings can cause some inconvenience to road traffic in some situations. We can't speak to the specifics of your town or that crossing, however, generally train speeds are regulated for the safety of the public when travelling through populated areas. You may wish to contact our Public Inquiries office for further information at (888) 888-5909. Thank you, and have a safe day. - The CN Facebook Team Everyone should call the 888 888 5909 number and discuss. Canadian National does not care, and this is not the first of these delays...
P-Ville Lifer February 18, 2014 at 02:25 PM
I agree that we missed a prime opportunity with the building of the new Renwick Road bridge; it should have went up and over the tracks.
Brandy Cipra Fanter February 18, 2014 at 03:05 PM
Just drove down 30 and 127th is shut off because of a stopped train
Tim February 18, 2014 at 03:49 PM
John, YOU are an elected official. I'm not sure what is so hard to understand about the responsibilities of your role as a public servant, but opening those lines of communication you made a point to try to pass this off on, is YOUR job. Your job is not to pretend to be a railroad lawyer(or copyright lawyer for that matter), your job is to listen to the constituents you serve and then ACT on it. When the CN purchase was complete, there were many local governing bodies that worked together for improving the crossings - township and municipal together. As a township official, this is happening in your township, to your voters. Posting on Patch about how you have not taken any action is not how you use the position you have to its fullest. Sending emails, organizing local governments to petition for changes to the Secretary of Transportation, etc... those are the things that are your job. You might fail at it, but right now you aren't even trying to make an effort. Right now, you sound like you are just passing it off as 'not your problem'. Well, it is your problem as long as you hold a public seat in the township it is happening in. I really hope your next post here is something along the lines of explaining what initiatives you have taken on behalf of the residents, instead of just throwing up your hands and giving up.
John F. Argoudelis February 18, 2014 at 04:00 PM
Tim. You've said this a couple of times but I have not been an elected official since April 2013 as I was not re-slated to continue as Township Supervisor. When I was Township Supervisor I tried very hard (see old newspaper clippings) to convince those in charge to build the Renwick Road bridge over the railroad tracks. As the Village has the most jurisdiction here, I'm sure they are and have been working to see what can be done. The Village is planning for 143rd Street to tie in with I-55 and there was discussion of possibly incorporating a bridge over the tracks on 143rd Street. My other suggestion would be for us to see what our officials in Washington can do to help. When I was in office I found our local congressmen/women of both parties always willing to help. The railroads are principally governed by Federal law so I think Federal officials would be the best place to look for help. Again, locally we need to pursue more separated crossings.
Brandy Cipra Fanter February 18, 2014 at 04:06 PM
Hey what do you know another train at vandyke
Ratscellar February 18, 2014 at 04:23 PM
The cheap ass CN needs to put a maintainer out there to flag trains until the issue is corrected. The scrimp and pimp at the expense of the public. The fines for timing out on a crossing need to have some bite to them. The ICC should have never allowed the CN to purchase the IC and the J
Tim February 18, 2014 at 04:47 PM
John, then I stand corrected. And I owe you an apology for my mistake. Are you no longer the township supervisor as well? Either way, I hope you can understand my frustration of watching local officials constantly pan off the local problems as 'not their problem', while the situation gets worse and worse. Not just in this circumstance, but in many others. It would go a long way for any official to even attempt such actions, succeed at it or not. If they aren't even going to try, it is rather disappointing.
joe February 18, 2014 at 04:52 PM
The CN must be reading our posts on the Patch. Now they're blowing their horns as they cross 135st. They never did that prior to today. BTW, that unmanned engine is still sitting by the crossing with the engine running. I doubt our elected officials can do anything about the issues with CN, because if they could, and looked the other way, I think election time would awaken them.
joe February 18, 2014 at 04:55 PM
Shannon, are you passing our poignant comments on to our elected officials? Let them know that we the people are speaking please.
Grandpamike February 18, 2014 at 05:50 PM
@Tony I don't believe the local government has any say over the CN. The federal govt regulates railroads in this country, and any problems would have to be made to a governmental agency. Remember, all of the towns affected by CN were against the takeover, but it had been approved at the Federal level, even before it went out for public discussion.
Hector February 18, 2014 at 07:04 PM
John Falaris, it wouldn't have made any difference if the ICC didn't approve the CN and J merger. If it didn't go through, the J said they would just lease trackage rights to the CN and the same trains would be running everyday. Railroads can lease their tracks to anyone they want. Most of the complainers probably never noticed that before the merger, NS, BNSF, UP and others were running daily. Not until the merger became the NIMBY du jour did it become an issue. If someone here was alive and owned a house in the late 1800's before the J was built, please speak up now. The rest of you knew there were train tracks when you built or bought. The BNSF has many more grade crossings in many towns, with 10 times the volume of trains as the CN, and somehow all the residents survive.
joe February 18, 2014 at 08:33 PM
Thanks Mike, I guess I can Google what part of the Govt. handles this.
Butch February 18, 2014 at 08:45 PM
I think John A is on the right path. We can't do anything at a local level. This falls on the laps of our Washington officials like Dick Durbin. A senator with a lot of influence is up for re-election. I don't remember, but I don't think he did anything to stop the buyout. The cargo they are hauling is lethal. Look at all the refineries and chemical plants in the area. Then CN claims they are taking trucks off our roads. They must think we are stupid. Look at the increase in truck traffic that is directly the result of one of the largest inland ports in the nation. And how does that cargo get to the intermodal to be loaded on those trucks? I wonder how much CN gave to Durbin's campaign? Come on Dickie for once represent the people of Illinois before one of these rolling bombs wipes out a whole city.
Lisa S. February 18, 2014 at 08:54 PM
Heres' the page for who handles this http://www.fra.dot.gov/Page/P0001 Way back when CN bought the line there was a public comment period. Lots of Villages fought against the trains coming through their neighborhoods, additional tracks, etc. Plainfield did not. WE were lucky to even get the 'quiet zones'. CN was very upfront about the schedule of trains (number/times/expansion, etc) Here's a fun fact: they are not even at their expected traffic yet! I live in a subdivision that abuts the tracks. Our elementary school is very, very close in case of an accident or spill. I have asked if there is a plan in place if that happens...only to be told in so many words no. And Hector...yes we knew there were trains tracks. A few coal trains a day when we moved in- not this traffic. And if other places thrive with so many trains, why were they all so eager for this to go through and get it out of their towns? Your reasoning is ridiculous! Just because I live on a street doesn't mean I should expect for it to someday turn into a highway.
Roy Rumaner February 19, 2014 at 11:59 AM
Five years ago when CN and BNSF first started to talk about CN using these tracks and putting trains over 2 miles long on them all the towns from Barrington to Aurora joined forces to try and keep it from happening. That effort was unsuccessful and now we all have to deal with the outcome.
C.W.G February 19, 2014 at 06:54 PM
So I've always had complaints about the horn blowing so loudly, but apparently the tracks between Lockport St and Renwick Rd have become a place to "park" the train for 11 HOURS! I live about 300 ft from this parked train and my biggest concern is what is in those black tanker cars that have been in front of my house all day!! I did not move here with the understanding that this was going to be a makeshift train yard to park trains running their engines all day and night and carrying hazardous chemicals!!!
Ericus Alanas February 19, 2014 at 08:39 PM
Well IDOT marshaled CN to pay for other overpasses, but Plainfield was pushed to the side. CN can reach agreements for quiet zones and safety fences, but I doubt they are just going to fork over 48M to build an overpass. Some towns I believe built more fire departments simply because of this issue. And just over a month ago, a CN train derailed, carrying propane and crude oil set on fire.
Roy Rumaner February 20, 2014 at 12:00 PM
If I remember correctly Aurora got CN to agree to pay 3/4 of the cost of building the overpass on Rt 34. I would be amazed if they actually cough up that much money however.
Margaret Neff-Cross February 22, 2014 at 02:08 PM
What about those school buses sitting there loaded with children, enroute to get them from standing in the cold. They cant turn around they are stuck. They seem to always have a problem...and why was this a great idea again.....
Tony Filippelli February 22, 2014 at 02:24 PM
Simple, pull a Diagio truck across the track and park it. Cn will get the hint real quick!
Jimmy Armstrong February 22, 2014 at 03:26 PM
Des Plaines used to have a local ordinance against trains stopping on the tracks for a period of time. The train companies took it to court and won, stating that the trains were there first, and the village grew around it. Kinda a valid point.
Joki2 February 23, 2014 at 09:14 AM
I remember years ago local government telling Plainfield residents the trains coming through will be like a long red light. Not true!!! Plainfield needs to act on this issue for their people they represent.
Ericus Alanas February 23, 2014 at 12:16 PM
Margaret, Chicago and CN saw this as a great idea because originally the train was routed through chicago and they had too many train and car related traffic problems.
Rob Haislip February 23, 2014 at 06:08 PM
Can anyone tell me how often the trains come through the area off of 119th just east of the tracks? We have looked at homes in that area and have done concerns about the train traffic and how loud the trains are. This particular subdivision looks to be about 2/10 of a mile from the tracks.

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