Barrington's mayor has advice for other towns on freight train lines
A suburban mayor who has spent years trying to mitigate the effects of more freight train traffic in her community said that for towns facing that same situation now, it's all about getting ahead of the problems.
Karen Darch was elected mayor of Barrington in 2005, only two years before the merger of the Canadian National and EJ&E that would increase the freight traffic in Barrington from three trains to up to 20 each day. She understands what worries Roselle and other suburbs along the Canadian Pacific line, as CP and the Kansas City Southern pursue a merger.
The merger could bring six to eight more freight trains a day through Roselle, Itasca, Wood Dale, Elgin, Bartlett, Schaumburg, Hanover Park and Bensenville. Leaders in those towns are concerned about potential traffic backups, emergency vehicle delays, additional noise and more pollution, as vehicles idle for longer.
Darch became the face of the fight between the suburbs and the railroads and the Surface Transportation Board, which approves or rejects mergers. The Surface Transportation Board also has the ability to keep railroads under oversight to make sure they are making the agreed-upon steps to keep crossings unblocked, limit the noise and more.
"Potential mitigation is the name of the game," Darch said.
Darch said keeping a strong spotlight on the communities' issues has to be the priority.
"It's always a balancing act between what communities need and the train companies," Darch said. "I think the communities have found their voice."
Under Darch's leadership, Barrington fought to extend the oversight period over CN, arguing that crossings were being blocked for longer than what the railroad agreed to.
The village also worked for years to get federal money to build an underpass for Northwest Highway at the CN tracks - improving traffic flow and making it easier for ambulances to get to Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital.
In 2019, the $73.5 million project was awarded $48.5 million in federal funds.
Darch said the project is expected to begin in 2022, with completion in 2024. Other federal grants have already supplied about $11 million, and Darch expects the remaining $14 million to come from federal, state and some local contributions along with funding from CN.
Darch said towns along the CP line should keep up the pressure.
In related news, the public comment period on the CP/KCS merger has been extended to Jan. 3 from the original deadline of Dec. 17. Submit comments at https://cp-kcsmergereis.com/involvement.htm.
The Surface Transportation Board said it expects to rule on the merger by fall 2022. If approved, integrating the railroads would take an expected three years to complete.
Earlier this year, CN proposed its own merger with KCS, which Barrington strenuously opposed, arguing the additional rail traffic would be a nightmare for the community.
CN dropped the proposal in September, leaving the way open for CP to complete a deal with KCS.