Hoffman Estates, Elgin residents air complaints about CN expansion plans
Representatives from the Canadian National Railroad met last week with a roomful of Northwest suburban homeowners upset over the company's plan to build a 4.27-mile track near their properties.
The track would run adjacent to the existing CN mainline track from Spaulding Road in Elgin to Shoe Factory Road in Hoffman Estates, part of a sprawling transcontinental network that has the Chicago area at its center.
Residents aired a litany of grievances about the proposal over the course of the two-hour meeting Thursday at Timber Trails Elementary School in Hoffman Estates. Among them was noise pollution from trains, which frequently idle for hours on the track behind their homes.
"I live directly behind the train," Elgin resident Tim Fields said. "The track backs up to my backyard. The proposed second track would continue to invade my backyard and bring the noise and safety risks closer to my home, my two young children and my family."
In recent years, Fields said, CN has ramped up traffic, adding more and bigger trains that travel at higher speeds.
"These larger, faster trains cause intense vibrations of our house, causing pictures to fall and drywall to crack," he said.
The public meeting was a requirement of the permit approval process for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. CN must now address all public comments received by the Army Corps.
"We are early in our review process and will need to review CN's responses to the residents' concerns," Army Corps Senior Project Manager Soren Hall said. "Part of this process will be consideration of alternative track configurations or locations that may satisfy the needs of CN, as well as the residents. Additional studies may be required in order to complete our review process."
Other concerns raised by residents include the railroad's transport of petrochemicals, the impact on nearby forest preserves and wetlands, washouts -- when water on a track causes derailment -- and decreasing home values.
"The additional 'siding' track will provide CN with a new parking or idling area for their northbound trains directly behind the Hoffman Estates subdivision of Deer Crossing," Hoffman Estates resident Scott Gibrich said. "A southbound idling area is already in use just north of Shoe Factory Road, in which trains will park for hours all day and night. The vibration and sound emitted by an idling train is quite intense."
Gibrich is a member of Families Against Railroad Expansion, a group opposing the plan. He lives about 100 feet from the train crossing at Shoe Factory Road.
Besides the Army Corps permit, CN also needs approval from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.
"Adding capacity on our network is a key part of safely keeping our trains moving through the very congested and complex Chicago region," company Assistant Vice President David Woodruff said. "We have built a strong safety record that we are always striving to uphold and build upon."
Some residents question that safety record, however. In 2011, a CN train carrying sodium hydroxide and ferrous sulfite derailed in Bartlett, and three rail cars caught fire.
Residents also believe that despite CN's stating otherwise, the railroad plans to use the additional track for train storage. They point to documents filed in a dispute with Barrington in which CN says it wants to use the double track for "meets, train staging, and CN's ability to make crew changes."
For Fields, the dangers posed by the existing tracks are already too much.
"I won't allow my children to play in the backyard anymore," he said.