Have you waited a long time at a freight train crossing? The feds want to hear about it.

  • A freight train blocks a crossing in Prospect Heights. The Federal Railroad Administration has created a website to report train delays.

    A freight train blocks a crossing in Prospect Heights. The Federal Railroad Administration has created a website to report train delays. Daily Herald File Photo

 
 
Updated 1/20/2020 12:25 PM

Fuming in the idling car while an interminable freight train steals 20 minutes you'll never get back? Get revenge -- or at least get on the record -- by reporting the delay to a new Federal Railroad Administration database.

The agency recently launched the website www.fra.dot.gov/blockedcrossings with the intent of capturing data on blocked crossings to help identify chronic situations where trains cause traffic jams and hamstring first-responders for long stretches of time.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"The FRA understands that blocked crossings pose potential safety risks and negatively impact quality of life in locations where trains routinely stand idle for extended periods," a spokesman said.

It will "help empower the public to hold the freight railroads accountable when they are blocking crossings," said U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Springfield Democrat who lobbied to create and fund the website.

Freight trains have grown in length by about 25% since 2008, with trains on some railroads averaging 1.2 to 1.4 miles in 2017, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

"Blocked crossings are an ongoing problem without a solution," Illinois Commerce Commission Railroad Safety Specialist Steve Laffey said.

No laws regulate how long a train can obstruct a crossing, and railroads are tight-lipped about the issue.

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Once enough valid and reliable data on train obstructions is gathered, it will be made public, the FRA promises.

Finding worst cases will help "communities work with railroads to minimize or prevent their recurrence," officials said.

But will knowledge equal power? The hope is communities that experience the worst train-generated gridlock could lobby for federal dollars to build grade separations or use the knowledge to pressure railroads to offer operational fixes.

Participants who visit the website can scroll a map that designates specific crossings and give the reason for the blocked crossing and how long they had to wait. There's also a chance to advise about problems like stymied ambulances or pedestrians crawling under trains, as happened in June 2018 in Barrington when a stalled CN train blocked crossings for one hour.

"I am glad FRA is launching it and I think it will be helpful," Barrington Mayor Karen Darch said. "Actually, though, having the railroads report their delays which exceed 10 minutes, as the Surface Transportation Board had CN do ... would yield even more effective and comprehensive data."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

CN was ordered to report blocked crossing occurrences from 2009 through 2017 after it merged with the EJ&E Railroad that runs through the suburbs. The data showed multiple cases of blockages lasting over an hour.

Meanwhile, Illinois crashes at railway tracks intersecting with roads in public areas jumped from 66 between Jan. 1 and Oct. 31, 2018, to 85 during the same period in 2019, Laffey reported. There were 13 fatalities in 2018 and 17 in 2019.

What's the worst crossing for train delays on your commute? Drop an email to mpyke@dailyherald.com.

One more thing

Hey ... weren't freight trains shorter a few years back? It's not your faulty memory, a Government Accountability Office report shows.

Seven major railroads operating in the U.S. are running longer than average trains on specific routes, although some indicated that's just a small percentage of total traffic. "One railroad said it runs a 3-mile-long train twice week," the GOA noted.

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Your voice

Lots of folks are revving up for the Chicago Auto Show Feb. 8-17, at McCormick Place in Chicago, including Steve Vondrak of Palatine. It's a 12-year tradition for him and adult son, Andy. "I love the luxury SUVs and am always switching back and forth year to year between the Escalades and the Navigators. The Cadillac XT4 and XT5 really grabbed both our attentions last year," Vondrak wrote.

Lynne Kalberg of Schaumburg drives a 2008 Honda Odyssey dubbed "the Nana bus" that is "able to transport all six of my grandchildren." Her husband drives a 2008 Honda CR-V, and the couple plan to downsize to one automobile. "Having different makes and models of cars in one place, indoors, would be very helpful for us," she wrote.

Downsizing became a necessity Jan. 15 after Ken and the CR-V collided with a deer, Kalberg said. "The cost of repair would be more than the Blue Book value of a 2008," she noted.

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