I am writing as a resident of Lake Forest to object strenuously to the EA proposal to construct side/holding tracks for freight trains in my city and in Glenview. The proposal fails to address a myriad of negative issues that these tracks pose for our communities. In particular, I ask that you revisit the following two aspects of the proposed EA.
(1) No significant impact: One aspect of the draft EA that alarms me greatly is the preliminary finding of “no significant impact” based solely on an analysis of Amtrak’s three additional Hiawatha trips. The draft EA is scarily silent on the impact of current and future freight traffic in this corridor, especially in relation to the proposed holding tracks. Even the EPA raised this concern in its Nov. 8, 2016 letter to the FRA. FRA must address this matter head-on to insure that its final decision is in the best interests of and fair to all impacted stakeholders.
FRA must be aware that Canadian Pacific will not and cannot make a promise to limit freight traffic on this rail line, due to its own future predictions of economic need. Even if no additional freight trains are put on the Hiawatha track, (a truly preposterous notion!), the additions of (a) 6 more train passes by Amtrak, (b) a 3-mile long siding rail in Lake Forest and (c) a 2-mile long siding rail in Glenview unquestionably mean that freight trains will have to idle and/or stop in areas where they have not idled or stopped previously, i.e. right next to homes, schools, hospitals, fire houses, playgrounds, nature preserves and businesses in our areas. Due to the designated sites for the new tracks, rail crossings would be closed for longer time periods, affecting response times for emergency vehicles. Derailments and/or explosions would injure countless individuals as well as damage homes and properties. Diesel fumes would exacerbate medical conditions for at risk children and seniors. In short, the consequences of these added side rails, even under current conditions, could be severe. The very likely addition of more freight trains makes this situation unbearable.
Furthermore, it is unclear to me whether anyone from FRA, IDOT or WisDOT has determined the impact of current freight traffic on quality of life (safety, pollution, vibration, noise etc.) and property values in our corridor; we already might be at a peak threshold of what is tolerable for our communities. Without knowing current thresholds, how can anyone say that these added side rails will have no impact? Again, a cursory finding of no significant impact fails to acknowledge or address all of the potential negative consequences.
(2) Lack of alternatives: A second aspect of the draft EA that concerns me greatly is the summary dismissal of alternatives to the construction of these holding tracks. Rather than using an estimated $200MM of taxpayer money for this project, cheaper, more efficient alternatives should be considered. For example, FRA could be looking to broker discussions between Canadian Pacific and Union Pacific to share already existing freight lines outside of our residential areas. There are immense benefits to such a plan: CP would improve its bottom line, by gaining greater velocities for its trains (i.e. they would not have to wait out the passage of commuter trains); residential communities would avoid all of the negative side effects of freight traffic.
Alternatively, Amtrak could minimize the impact (potentially avoiding all side rails) by adding only one or two more round trips and an additional car to a train experiencing heavy usage, i.e. at a peak user time. I have read that this would be a “losing proposition” for Amtrak, as the revenue from added ridership would not make up for the maintenance costs of adding an additional car. This should be thoroughly reviewed! If under Amtrak’s business model, revenues from enhanced ridership cannot support added maintenance costs, then it is a losing proposition which taxpayer money should not support! The federal government needs to run Amtrak in a way that makes it profitable from actual user fees, not from taxpayer dollars.
At the very least, the magnitude of this project for all concerned parties mandates additional analysis via an EIS and/or FIS. More importantly, please review the bigger, long-term picture of freight train passage through residential communities and find more cost effective, safer alternatives than construction of side/holding tracks.
Editor’s note: Letters to the Editor represent the writers’ opinions and not necessarily those of Daily North Shore. We encourage readers to post Letters to the Editor — please use this link to do so.