LAKE FOREST — Some members of the Lake Forest City Council are angry over a proposal to build a nearly two-mile long freight train holding track on the northwest side of the city and the short amount of time they have to do something about it.
The council unanimously approved a resolution before a standing-room only crowd of more than 80 people November 7 at City Hall opposing the railroad project and seeking more time from federal and state authorities to study the impact on Lake Forest and surrounding communities.
Lake Forest residents and officials learned about the proposed holding track only recently. Residents asked about it at the city’s annual Town Hall meeting November 1 at the Gorton Community Center.
At that time City Manager Robert Kiely Jr. said an engineer was hired to take a close look at the situation. He let the people there know the council would be discussing strategy at its next meeting.
The anger of the council members was evident as they discussed the resolution. Alderman Tim Newman said he did not like the limited options the city has in the face of the Federal Railroad Administration’s proposal.
“There is little we can do as a city government about the increase in noise, the increase in pollution,” Newman said at the city council meeting. “We find it hard to swallow.”
Residents and the aldermen are reacting to an environmental assessment prepared by the FRA, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the Illinois Department of Transportation discussing the impact on rail traffic between Chicago and Milwaukee if three more Amtrak runs are added daily in each direction.
Assessment Impacts Lake Forest, Glenview, Northbrook, Deerfield
The assessment suggests one holding track in Lake Forest as well as another straddling Glenview and Northbrook to allow slower freights to park while the quicker moving Amtrak and Metra trains can pass, according to the assessment. Click here to read the full environmental assessment on the WisDOT website.
One alternative suggests a 10,000-foot-holding track running south from Roundout near Highway 176 to Highway 60, according to the assessment. Kiely said a second possibility is a longer holding track extending from Roundout to Conway Road.
The holding track has been dubbed a “parking lot for trains” by Glenview Deputy Village Manager Don Owen in a September 29 DailyNorthShore.com story.
Kiely said at the City Council meeting he got together with his counterparts from Glenview, Northbrook, Deerfield and Bannockburn as well as Metra officials November 3 to develop a common strategy.
“Each of has our own unique challenges but we felt it was better if we work collectively,” said Kiely. “This is a large hurdle because it is a federal issue.”
While Glenview has been lobbying state and federal authorities about the plan for months, Lake Forest officials were taken by surprise after the 270-page assessment was issued by the RTA October 12. Public comment is due to state and federal officials November 15.
Alderman Beidler Slams Holding Track Proposal
“Why are we just learning about this now when they have been considering it for (several) years,” said Alderman Prue Beidler. “It is paramount we do this not just for Lake Forest and its residents but for the entire area. What are we supposed to do?”
Beidler’s question was directed at Jim Messmore, a senior vice president of Hanson Professional Services, Inc., the engineering firm hired by the city to study the assessment and recommend strategy.
Messmore said as long as the project was planned in the railroad’s right of way, it had a lot of leeway to go ahead with the project. He said both the city and its residents should make written comments as provided by federal regulations and get in touch with elected officials in Congress.
The assessment is lacking in detail about how the holding track will affect the environment, according to Messmore. He said if the FRA determines the information contained in the assessment is insufficient, the agency can require a full blown environmental impact study taking a deeper dive into what the changes in train traffic will put into the atmosphere.
The resolution specifically criticizes the lack of specific data in the assessment, seeks more detailed information and asks for a 60-day extension for public comments, according to Kiely. Messmore said getting the 60-day extension was a likely outcome.
Mayor Donald Schoenheider told the crowd at the meeting the city was going to do everything it could to mitigate the situation.
“We are all in lockstep with the steps we are about to take,” said Schoenheider.