Choo-choo blues: Eileen Lynch, chief of staff in Illinois Sen. Don Harmon's constituent service office; Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb; and Adrian Guerro, Union Pacific's director of public affairs, answer questions from the public about idling trains and other issues associated with the rail line. | Photo by Debbie Preiser

Oak Park residents who live along the Union Pacific rail line that cuts through the village, running adjacent to the CTA Green Line, say freight trains sit for days on end with their loud engines idling and disturbing them.

The topic was discussed at a town hall forum on Aug. 20 hosted by Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb at Oak Park’s Main Library. 

Residents who live near the line acknowledged that idling trains have always been a part of living near the rail line, but in the last few years the sitting trains have become more common and that they sit dormant for longer. 

Mark Miller, a resident who lives near the rail line, said the idling has increased in his area, sometimes standing for up to two days. Residents aren’t just concerned about the noise but the air pollution from the locomotives, he said.

“I know you have a business to run, but we have lives to live,” he said, asking whether Union Pacific has ever conducted a review of the pollution from the trains. 

Adrian Guerrero, Union Pacific’s director of public affairs, said the rail company adheres to all federal noise and pollution standards, adding “stopping trains is not part of our business.”

He said that mechanical failures have caused some of the train delays, noting that the line is shared with the Metra commuter trains, which take precedence over the freight trains. Inclement weather also causes delays, Guerrero said.

Union Pacific is currently undertaking a multi-million project to add a third track that would alleviate some of the congestion. The project is expected to cut idling times in half, he said. 

Those upgrades are at least two years away, though, he said. 

He advised residents to call the train’s hotline at 888-877-7267 to report idling trains. “If we see [trains idling] night after night … that’s typically when I step in,” he said.

Guerrero noted that one of the reasons Oak Park is a prime spot for the railroad to park their trains is because it is the only community in the area that does not have a grade crossing. That’s because the Union Pacific is on a raised line throughout the village. Roadways are not hindered by the tracks, and car traffic is never stopped in Oak Park, he said.

Martha Yount, who lives near Oak Park’s Main Fire Station, 100 N. Euclid, said the trains idle near her building on a regular basis. 

“Sometimes two trains for hours and hours, days and days,” she said. 

Yount said she’s called the hotline but that “they really don’t know what’s going on.” 

“Sometimes they’re effective at getting them to move on, but most of the time not so much,” Yount said. “Maybe they passed all the EPA tests for running the trains, but when they’re idling for 24, 48 hours – three days one time – that can’t be good.”

Brian Lantz said he is concerned not only with the idling but with the hazardous material being shipped through the village. 

“It doesn’t seem like a safe situation at all to me,” he said.

Guerrero said that Union Pacific has a 99.98 percent safety record and that the company is legally required to haul what customers contract the company to haul. He added that Union Pacific has emergency response programs in place in case of a spill or derailment.

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

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