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The Evergreen Parker: Not Looking Forward to More Freight Train Traffic

CSX Transportation's plan to increase traffic on the Grand Trunk line through Evergreen Park hold almost no upside for the village and its 'downtown.'

I had hoped that someday more trains would run along the Grand Trunk Western Railroad tracks – the ones that cross 95th Street and Kedzie Avenue near where those two streets intersect. Freight traffic, however, wasn't what I had in mind.

A hundred years ago, there was a rail station in Evergreen Park, on 95th Street, just east of Kedzie. That's according to this map from 1911. The Grand Trunk Western Railroad line ran from the old Dearborn Station down toward Blue Island and then southeast toward the state line. Passenger trains stopped here.

How great would it be to be able to catch a train at 95th and Kedzie and go downtown or, in the opposite direction, points east? In my mind I fantasized about the Grand Trunk becoming a passenger rail line again, with a stop in Evergreen Park. Instead, though, CSXT has purchased the Grand Trunk Western easement and plans to use it to relieve congestion elsewhere in its Chicago system. They're talking up to two dozen trains a day by 2018.

So, you think, one train an hour. CSXT claims they'll only be blocking 95th Street and Kedzie Avenue for two and a half minutes, moving at 35 to 40 miles per hour. According to CSXT, though, they're planning to avoid rush hour in the morning—from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m.—and evening—from 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. That takes 7.5 hours out of the 24-hour day, which works out to more than a train an hour during the time they're supposed to be running.

Some have suggested the village urge CSXT to build an underpass for 95th Street and Kedzie. That could potentially kill the downtown area. I think of 111th Street east of Central Avenue or Archer Avenue at the south end of downtown Summit. Not pedestrian- or business-friendly areas. Then again, the area around 79th and Kedzie isn't desolate.

There are real safety issues to consider, however. For 17 hours a day, more than a train an hour will be passing across 95th Street and Kedzie Avenue. That could affect the fire department's response time to the southwest part of the village and ambulances' ability to get to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, which is the main trauma center for the South Side.

It's also going to take some convincing for me to accept CSXT's claims of average speed and average blockage times. I ride Metra's Southwest Service train to work most mornings, which runs on some CSXT tracks and crosses others. The number of freight delays we encounter is impressive and annoying. It's no secret that rail congestion in Chicago is bad. Hence the CREATE program to improve commercial and passenger rail transit in the region.

In the long term, CREATE could ease congestion and maybe even move some of the projected rail traffic through downtown Evergreen Park to other tracks. In the short term, CSXT's plans seem like a giant headache in the making.

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