Hoffman Estates, Elgin residents work with local leaders to fight CN track expansion

  • Residents in Hoffman Estates and Elgin are enlisting elected officials in their fight to block plans for a second railroad track beginning here at Shoe Factory Road in Hoffman Estates and running south to Spaulding Road in Elgin.

      Residents in Hoffman Estates and Elgin are enlisting elected officials in their fight to block plans for a second railroad track beginning here at Shoe Factory Road in Hoffman Estates and running south to Spaulding Road in Elgin. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Residents living near the Elgin and Hoffman Estates border are opposing plans for a second railroad track being built behind their homes.

      Residents living near the Elgin and Hoffman Estates border are opposing plans for a second railroad track being built behind their homes. John Starks | Staff Photographer, 2019

 
By Jennifer Shea
Daily Herald correspondent
Updated 1/3/2020 5:02 PM

Hoffman Estates and Elgin residents fighting an expansion of Canadian National Railway tracks near their homes are enlisting federal, state and local leaders in their efforts to raise concerns with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which could issue a permit for the project later this month.

CN, through its subsidiary Wisconsin Central Ltd., wants to build a second line of railroad track spanning 4.27 miles from Shoe Factory Road in Hoffman Estates to Spaulding Road in Elgin. Together with existing track, the project would create a 6.1-mile stretch of double track.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

According to the proposal, the double track would allow the railroad to boost "network fluidity" and reduce train idling. CN said in its permit application that it expects to run an additional nine trains per day in 2020.

Alexandre Boule, CN's senior adviser for media relations, said the proposed double track also will enhance safety and reduce delays for Metra Milwaukee District West commuter trains that cross paths with CN's freight trains.

Both the Hoffman Estates and Hanover Township boards have passed resolutions objecting to CN's plans.

The Hoffman Estates resolution says the railroad needs to address concerns, including train idling, lost vegetation, noise, vibration effects and the environmental impact. The Hanover Township resolution contains a similar list.

Hoffman Estates Village Manager Jim Norris said town leaders hope changes requested by the village will be part of the conditions for the Army Corps permit. And Mayor William McLeod also has written to the Army Corps, complaining that the railroad has not yet adequately addressed problems with idling, noise and vibration that have become more common since CN acquired Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway in 2009.

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Army Corps Senior Project Manager Soren Hall said the federal agency also has received more than 300 comments on the permit request. And at a public meeting in May, residents aired complaints about multiple issues, ranging from reduced home values and chemicals CN transports, to vibrations knocking items from their walls and noises keeping them up at night.

Residents also voiced concerns about potential for washouts causing a train derailment, and the tracks' proximity to wetlands.

"The main issue here that we're trying to resolve really involves the noise -- just north of Shoe Factory Road, trains sit there and idle for hours," Hoffman Estates resident Scott Gibrich said.

If CN's permit is approved, "we would have trains idling on both sides of our subdivision. If it's not the noise or air pollution, it's basically the major disruption to waterways," he said.

Gibrich is a member of Families Against Railway Expansion, representing seven subdivisions and more than 250 homeowners. He and his wife, Doreen, have lived in the Deer Crossing subdivision for 25 years and say they have seen a change for the worse since CN took over the track.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The group has met with elected officials, including many state and federal representatives and senators.

"CN not only refuses to answer (questions), but refuses to meet with us," said Elgin resident Tim Fields, a member who lives in the Rolling Knolls subdivision. "The answer that we've gotten ... is it's their land and they can do what they want with it."

The residents said they've also considered legal options, but the railroad has purchased the land and the right of way, so they face an uphill battle.

"This is a multibillion-dollar railroad company," Fields said. "No one's really been able to fight them."

CN provided its response to the objections to the Army Corps in late November, and Hall said the agency is working to finish its review of the information. A decision on the permit could come this month, he said, though it's more likely later.

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