Besides investigating smart meters, synthetic turf or pesticide spraying, Oak Park Environmental Network (OPEN) discovered a persistent problem, a risky business: hazardous material traveling by freight trains through Oak Park on our antiquated infrastructure. See for yourself. Drive along North or South boulevards from Austin to Harlem and look up on the train tracks.

On Sunday, April 27 at 7:30 p.m., I counted 70 black stationary railroad tanker cars, pointed west from Harvey to Clinton avenues in Oak Park. One tanker car had a sign stating “Global Ethanol.” These cars caught my attention because of our decades-old crumbling concrete viaducts, the base for three train tracks and two for the el.

One of OPEN’s members suggested I read the Chicago Tribune’s April 22 on-line article, “NTSB head: Oil tanker rail safety has been compromised,” by Richard Wronski. He quoted remarks by National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman at an NTSB forum. She said that transporting crude oil and ethanol, the most frequently shipped hazardous materials in the rail industry, has quadrupled since 2005.

Hersman cited the 2009 fiery derailment of 15 cars carrying ethanol in Cherry Valley near Rockford. The massive fireball caused a woman’s death and evacuation of 600 homes within a half-mile. The NTSB blamed the design of the older tanker cars. Division exists among oil, rail and federal regulators whether new requirements need be more stringent than a 2011 voluntary industry standard, according to the article. 

As this is being written, NBC News’ Lisa Riordan Seville reports a CSX 15-car derailment in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia, April 30, as the train traveled from Chicago to Virginia. The fiery explosion caused toxic spills into the James River. There was mention of a 2013 crash of trains carrying crude oil in Quebec which destroyed the town of Lac Megantic and killed 47 people.

CSX trains also travel in Oak Park in the expressway canyon, south of the Blue Line tracks, north of Garfield Street. Do they carry these dangerous railroad tankers and their threatening cargo?

How will our elected officials — local, state and federal — protect us? OPEN suggests disaster prevention along with preparedness. It can start with repairing all viaducts and deteriorating adjacent walls. Also, are the double-decker train cars a problem? How about letters/phone calls to:

Jack Koraleski, CEO

Union Pacific Railroad

1400 Douglas Street

Omaha, NE 68170


Michael J. Ward, CEO

CSX Railroad

500 Water St., 15th floor

Jacksonville, FL 32202


Barbara Mullarkey

Oak Park Environmental Network (OPEN)

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