The Union Pacific railroad embankment is one of Oak Park’s great fixtures and barriers as it runs from Austin to Harlem dividing North and South boulevards and carrying CTA, Metra and freight trains.
The deteriorating condition of the embankment, though, continues to be a frustration to both merchants along the tracks and to the village government which seeks to both push and charm the giant railroad operator.
“Union Pacific is a huge corporation,” said Dave Powers, the village’s spokesman. “Unless it’s something that is dire in nature, it’s very hard to get their full attention.”
So far, randomly falling hunks of concrete and the occasional broken windshield don’t seem enough to get a quick response from the railroad.
According to several business owners along South Boulevard, the train viaduct that runs alongside the road is not only unsightly but also poses potential safety hazards for pedestrians and cars.
“It happens on a regular basis,” said Bill McClung, owner of K9 Cookie Company, 723 South Blvd. “I see chunks of concrete on the road, obviously fallen from the wall of the overpass.”
McClung said the loose pieces of concrete on the wall of the viaduct are shaken loose by the vibration of the passing trains.
He said the village is not paying enough attention to the issue even though the falling pieces of concrete could cause serious injury to an unsuspecting pedestrian.
“The village put some yellow tapes around the parts where the pieces were found,” he said. “And then they took it away?#34;and that’s the last I heard of it.”
The owner of a restaurant on South Boulevard said a piece of concrete “the size of a softball” smashed the windshield of his car. Even though he was not injured at the time, he said the problem will get worse with heavy summer rains.
The village’s Powers said Oak Park has been working with Union Pacific Railroad since last November. The village, he said, examined the entire length of the viaduct along South Boulevard after receiving complaints last fall regarding falling concrete pieces at the intersection of Oak Park Avenue and South Blvd.
Following the inspection, Powers said the village identified the problematic areas and installed safety barriers at those places to prevent any injuries.
“Those safety barriers were temporary measures,” he said. “The village presented findings of the inspection to the staff of Union Pacific Railroad and they [UPR] promised to examine and work on the entire length of the viaduct.”
Powers added, however, that the time schedule of the repairs is uncertain since Union Pacific may not consider the issue to be serious.”
Mark Davis, the railroad’s communications director, said Union Pacific is currently installing track equipment that continuously corrects the position of the concrete pieces rattled loose from vibration of passing trains.
In addition to fixing the loose concrete, Powers said the village is trying to convince the railroad to fill the cracks along the viaduct.
“We want to consider two things: first is the safety issue and second is the visual aspect of the viaduct,” he said.
Regarding the complaints from the business owners along South Boulevard, Powers said the village received no complaints since last fall but will take prompt actions upon notification of any problem.
“The village will continue to work with Union Pacific to expedite the repairs,” he said. “But in the meantime, if we do receive any complaints, we’ll take the necessary steps ourselves to ensure the safety of the pedestrians.”
According to George Crandall’s report, the principal of Crandall & Arambula City and Regional Development Firm, considers the viaduct that runs along North and South boulevards an affront to the master plan for the downtown area.
What is the master plan? A comprehensive and somewhat controversial development plan that supports a healthy business and pedestrian-friendly environment in Oak Park.
Why the viaduct is an affront to planners: The unsightly viaduct is a barrier between residential areas to the south and retailers up north.
Suggestions from Crandall & Arambula: To improve the visual aspect of the viaduct, the viaduct should be modified using a material that requires low-maintenance and has a clean appearance.
Time schedule of the modification: Uncertain because it is up to the village and Union Pacific Railroad.