“We already found out, before a single train rolled down the track, how much economic harm this can cause,”

Suburban rally seeks to derail train plan
Financial harm to towns cited as protesters target proposed rail acquisition

By Robert Channick | Special to the Chicago Tribune
10:56 PM CDT, June 29, 2008

Arguments against Canadian National Railway’s proposed acquisition of a little-used freight line took a sharp turn Sunday at a Barrington rally from concerns over the quality of life to the grim economic realities in affected communities.

In Lake Zurich, a developer pulled the plug on a proposed $22 million, 120-unit senior living project because of its nearness to the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway Co. tracks. Pathway Senior Living, a Des Plaines company with 10 Chicago-area senior complexes, cited the increase in rail traffic as “incompatible with a residential use.”

Village officials estimated a loss of $825,000 in annual revenue.

“We already found out, before a single train rolled down the track, how much economic harm this can cause,” said Village President John Tolomei.

The rally in Barrington was held at Memorial Park, just blocks from a planned 29,000-square-foot retail redevelopment at Hough and Main Streets.

Village President Karen Darch acknowledged a growing anxiety over fallout from the freight line, which traverses five at-grade crossings in town.

“The business community is paying attention to this, obviously, and it’s factoring into their decisions to do business in our communities,” Darch said.

“If ever there were a case where the impact is great enough to have a turndown, this one is it,” she said.

The proposed $300 million purchase of the EJ&E would allow Canadian National to use an outlying 198-mile loop to skirt rail congestion in Chicago.

Traffic on the route is expected to quadruple, running more than 20 freight trains per day through Barrington and other suburbs along the line.

The proposal is undergoing an impact review by the Federal Surface Transportation Board.

There are about 100 grade crossings from Joliet to Waukegan, giving rise to other concerns such as traffic, safety and convenience.

Jenny Brauch, 37, a Barrington resident who walked to the rally with her husband and their infant son, said the increased rail traffic would devastate the village’s commercial district.

“People wouldn’t come to Barrington to shop anymore,” she said. “It’s hard enough on a Saturday or Sunday to get into town with traffic the way it is now.”

To mitigate the impact on the suburbs, Canadian National has set aside a pool of $40 million, from which it would contribute 5 percent to the construction of separated grade crossings, railroad spokesman Jim Kvedaras said Sunday. At the rally attended by several hundred people, officials said that money won’t begin to make a dent.

Results from the impact study are expected by the end of the summer, with a final transportation board ruling as early as December, Darch said.

Officials vowed that Sunday’s demonstration would not be the last.

“In the coming weeks, there will be rally after rally along this line,” said Mayor Tom Weisner of Aurora. “All of us need to keep the pressure on” the transportation board.