Not working on the railroad

Opinion: Editorials

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From the bygone days when the railroads connected the Atlantic and Pacific and right up to today when a government-issued railroad right-of-way is somehow considered sacrosanct and removed from local influence, here's a word to describe our railroad pals: Imperious.

Angry River Forest neighbors along the Union Pacific line are turning up the heat on village hall, frustrated that the railroad's efforts to improve their track have left a residue of garbage and debris. They want it cleaned up. And don't even get the neighbors started about the long hours when the Union Pacific leaves freight train engines idling — loud and smelly — because they need a place to park their trains.

At a meeting last week, we saw the River Forest version of good cop/bad cop. Village President Cathy Adduci was rightly outraged by the railroad's historic indifference. "I can't imagine why we can't accelerate some of this work; it's been years and we still have walls crumbling. It's like we're in some other country; it's crazy," she said. Village Administrator Eric Calm, errr, we mean Palm, took the conciliatory role. "Union Pacific has always said they want to be a good neighbor, so we're going to take them up on their offer" of a sit-down, he said.

Good luck with that.

Our experience across a good many towns is that unless tracks deteriorate and send trains careening off into houses, railroads are happy to pay fines for idling trains — so far in the tens of thousands paid to River Forest, happy to pay the body shop when a chunk of embankment falls onto your car, happy to take the heat from neighbors who chose to live along their precious right-of-way.

Railroads are not good neighbors. 

They hold the cards, will not be cajoled, and have plenty of profits to pay nuisance fines. By all means River Forest should issue "local ordinance citations" to the railroad for leaving their garbage along the right-of-way. As a revenue source, it could be a backup to red light cameras. But is the village likely to make the neighbors happy? We're dubious.

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