In years past, every community wanted the train to pass through their town to foster economic activity, including Big Rock, IL. Today, the success of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe is causing road blockages in Big Rock that officials say threaten the ability of emergency service providers to respond and the safety of children walking to school and back home.
BNSF representatives met Thursday (June 26, 2014) with federal, state, county and local officials, as well as residents of Big Rock, to discuss the concerns, look for solutions and plan the next steps.
BNSF is running nearly double the trains through Big Rock as it did only a few years ago, said state Rep. Bob Pritchard, one of the organizers of the meeting.
As the trains going into and out of Chicago sequence their schedules, they often have to wait on track sidings — one of which blocks Rhodes Street, the only road connecting the town of Big Rock. The town’s fire protection district which includes Emergency Medical Services, covers 72 square miles and stretches from Little Rock to the Kaneland High School. When a train blocks the intersection, it prevents the emergency providers on the south side of the tracks from responding quickly to the northern part of their district.
ABC-Chicago ran an article on the topic back in April, saying idle freight trains are blocking the crossing and quoting Big Rock Village President Dean Hummel saying “it’s gonna take somebody getting hurt before somebody steps up.”
Vehicles waiting to cross the tracks back up on U.S. Route 30, creating another safety concern. In addition, pedestrians — including elementary students — get tired of waiting for the stopped train to move and climb through the train which creates a significant safety hazard.
“Train crews don’t routinely separate their trains to open the intersection because of the time to recouple cars, activate the airbrake system and inspect the train which can take as long as an hour,” Pritchard said in an email summarizing the meeting.
During the meeting, BNSF representatives said they realize the safety and inconvenience concerns and have made a number of operational changes including stopping trains farther west of Big Rock and routing them on different main line tracks altogether. Citizens applauded the railroad’s recent efforts to reduce the blockages but concluded they have not eliminated them.
Pritchard said the group came up with several ideas to help resolve the blockage issues, including more-exact scheduling of trains to minimize the stopped times for trains, extending the track siding so that stopped trains would not block Rhodes Avenue, and building an overpass across the tracks connecting Dauberman Road south of U.S.30 to Granart Road.
Such an overpass has been in the counties long range transportation plans for over a decade but hasn’t moved up in the priority for several years due to limited funding. Pritchard said the next step would be to conduct a phase I engineering study which would be essential to applying for Illinois Commerce Commission Railroad Grade Separation funding.
Federal and state officials said they would continue to seek funding for an overpass in Big Rock. Local officials agreed to open discussions with the Kane County Board to find funding for the engineering study.
- ABC7: Idle Freight Trains Block Crossing, Cause Public Safety Concerns in Big Rock
- Fox News: Caution: Do Not Stop on Tracks