A group of North Shore residents recently formed a grassroots organization to keep railroad holding tracks out of their neighborhoods. They have an ally in Lake Forest Alderman Raymond Buschmann.
ACTION, the Alliance to Control Train Impact in Our Neighborhoods, wants to prevent the construction of an approximately two-mile long holding track for freight trains along the Metra tracks in Lake Forest, and a second one spanning the same distance in Glenview and Northbrook.
At a City Council meeting November 20 at City Hall, Buschmann suggested the council back efforts already underway at the federal level to require more study before any decision is made by the Federal Railroad Administration.
Lake Forest City Manager Robert Kiely Jr. said after the meeting he and Buschmann were going to work together to write a letter to Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Deerfield) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Evanston) thanking them for their recent effort to require the FRA, the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to do a more detailed study.
More than 80 persons packed into the Council Chambers, many of them affiliated with ACTION, waiting for the time set aside at the meeting for public comments. Joanne Desmond of Lake Forest, one of the group’s organizers, said she knew the Amtrak Hiawatha proposal was not on the agenda. They wanted to make their voices heard as 13 spoke on different points of the issue.
Amtrak wants to add three daily round trips to its Hiawatha service between Chicago and Milwaukee. The FRA, IDOT WisDOT issued an Environmental Assessment just over a year ago which suggested additional rails were necessary to allow faster passenger trains pass slower freights.
Holding Tracks Proposed in Lake Forest, Glenview, Northbrook, Deerfield
One of the 10,000 foot holding tracks will run from just north of Highway 60 in Lake Forest to Rondout near Highway 176, according to the assessment. The other will run between West Lake Avenue in Glenview to Techny Road in Northbrook. A 1,500 foot holding track is proposed north of Greenwood Avenue in Deerfield.
Lake Forest along with Glenview, Northbrook, Deerfield and Bannockburn have been pushing the FRA to do a more detailed environmental impact study to evaluate the effect of freight traffic on surrounding communities.
The residents in those communities have the support of Schneider and Schakowsky who represent all or part of the towns involved. The holding tracks are proposed for Schneider’s 10th Congressional District. Now they have stronger support from Lake Forest Mayor Rob Lansing and the aldermen.
Just before the time for public comments early in the meeting, Lansing gave Buschmann the opportunity to talk about the impact on freight traffic if the two holding tracks are built.
“Most people are very concerned about the negative impact of the third rail expansion,” said Buschmann. “They have generated a grass roots effort. Congressman Schneider wants a freight impact study before any decision is made. I think we should send a letter to the congressman thanking him for supporting that effort.”
Local Congressional Representatives Push for Deeper Study
In their letter, Schakowsky and Schneider let IDOT and WisDOT officials know the proposed holding tracks will be built near homes, schools, parks, businesses and doctor’s offices. They want to know the effect of the proposal on their constituents.
“At this time, we do not yet understand the full impact of idling and holding freight trains so near to these highly populated areas,” write Schneider and Schakowsky in their October 13 letter. The potential increase in noise and vibrations could considerably impact residents in their homes.”
The rail traffic in west Lake Forest is already impacting residents like Kathryn Galloway and her family. She said they are losing sleep. She said she is concerned about the proximity of the potential third rail to schools.
“I know of children who make up from bad dreams because of the trains and they are behind in school,” said Galloway. “I do know I have fear because of all those crude oil trains,” she added referring to the tank cars which go by daily.
During the meeting Kiely said he received a letter from IDOT and WisDOT letting him know they expected to complete the current phase of analysis by December and then start to study the environmental impact.
Final Plan Could Come in Early 2018.
WisDOT and IDOT will hold a meeting early next year with other agencies, municipal leaders and state legislators to explain their findings and gather input. Alderman Michelle Moreno suggested Buschmann and possibly another council member be in the room. Buschmann said he was willing. Lansing said getting the proposal through will be no easy task for the FRA.
“They face an enormous funding hurdle,” said Lansing.
Though some aldermen expressed doubt about how much impact local people could have, Buschmann said Schneider and Schakowsky have direct impact. Should a final proposal be suggested by the FRA, they will vote for the currently suggested $150 million in funding.
Desmond did not go into many of the details she is able to recite from memory after deep study since she became actively involved trying to keep the holding track out of West Lake Forest. She offered an emotional plea.
“There is nothing good about the third rail,” said Desmond. “It’s just a holding track to park freights. Nothing good will come out of this.”