LAKE FOREST — No injuries were reported, no local property was damaged and no material was discharged when 11 cars of a 96-car Union Pacific freight train derailed on tracks immediately east of Highway 41 just south of the Lake Bluff village limit in the early morning hours of March 15, according to railroad and police officials.
The cause of the derailment in Lake Forest is under investigation, according to Calli Hite, the director of corporate communications for the railroad. She said no material was released from the nine cars carrying molten sulphur. Two cars were empty.
By midday, Union Pacific crews were working to upright the cars. Needed equipment was transported to the site from trucks on Highway 176. Hite did not have an estimate of when the work would be complete.
“No grade crossings were impacted,” said Hite in an email responding to questions from DailyNorthShore.
The Lake Forest Police and Fire Departments learned of the derailment at 3:40 a.m., according to a police department news release. At that time members of the hazardous materials teams from Lake and McHenry Counties responded to the scene and found neither spills nor health or fire hazards.
Lake Forest Police Commander Craig Lepkowski said there could be temporary automobile delays on Highway 41 as Union Pacific crews work to upright and remove the derailed cars.
Freight traffic has been an issue of concern to both residents and city officials since October when the Federal Railroad Administration issued an environmental assessment proposing a third rail from just north of Highway 60 to Rondout near Highway 176 in Lake Bluff. That idea arose out of a plan to add three daily Amtrak round trips between Milwaukee and Chicago.
The Metra-owned tracks also used by Amtrak and Canadian Pacific cargo trains are approximately one mile west of the Union Pacific freight line where the cars derailed. City Manager Robert Kiely Jr. said residents were lucky the circumstances were not worse.
“We were fortunate this did not occur near any residences and near (Highway) 41 where there is easy access for emergency vehicles,” said Kiely in a DNS interview. “This is not something to be taken lightly.”
Kiely said the city will remain vigilant as it tries to minimize the impact of the Amtrak expansion in light of the derailment. He urged residents to do the same. He is unsure if it will alter Lake Forest’s approach.
“Mayor (Donald) Schoenheider has already talked to Congressman (Brad) Schneider (D-Deerfield),” said Kiely. “We want Congressman Schneider and Sen. (Tammy) Duckworth (D-Hoffman Estates) to continue to shine a light on the need for freight safety in the Chicago metropolitan area. We want them to continue to keep people informed with public meetings.”
Schneider said in a statement to DNS he will continue to press the FRA and other federal agencies to continue to be mindful of the impact of freight traffic in the area in light of the derailment.
“An accident like this is a clear reminder that we need to be constantly working to enhance the safety of our rail lines and protection of our communities,” said Schneider the statement. “I look forward to continuing to work with the mayor as we seek understanding of the cause of this accident.”
Lepkowski said until the reason for the derailment is known it is difficult to know how to lessen the possibilities of such events in the future.
“Until we know the cause there is no lesson to be learned,” said Lepkowski. “Once we do we can look at ways to keep this from happening again.”
The southbound freight was hauling mixed freight from Butler, Wis., to Proviso, Ill., according to Hite.