Those idling trains

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Oak Park is a tough town to park a car. But the Union Pacific Railroad says the village is a fantastic place to park idling freight trains. And despite all the rising noise and pollution complaints from residents who live along the Green Line/Union Pacific embankment, there is no chance this problem will be solved anytime soon.

That was the clear message Monday night as a public affairs rep for the railroad made an exceedingly rare public appearance at a public forum organized at the main library by Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb. 

Chicago, crossroads of the nation for freight traffic, is one giant bottleneck when it comes to rail traffic. Because the railroads have inadequate infrastructure allowing trains to pass quickly through Chicago, because they lack adequate space in rail yards to house backed up freight trains, they stack up the trains wherever there is empty track and enough length to avoid blocking a crossing.

And among those prime parking spaces are Oak Park and River Forest. With a raised embankment and the cars passing below, the Union Pacific can park idling trains for 24, 36, 48 hours. Great for them, lousy for the increasing number of people who live along that embankment and have to endure perpetual noise and emissions.

Go back to the pioneering West and you'll recall that the federal government, eager for transcontinental rail, gave mighty power and independence to railroads. Still the case. Local communities, it seems, have few options to crack down on the problems caused by the railroads. 

The Union Pacific spokesperson said any solution is multiple years off as continued infrastructure investment moves about as quickly as an idling train.

Nonetheless, the villages should keep up pressure for a solution — or at least turning the damn things off while they park.

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