By Nona Tepper
As construction chugs along the Union Pacific railroad tracks through River Forest, residents are complaining about the garbage and debris that have fallen to the ground, particularly near Lake Street. At a village board meeting on May 29, trustees agreed to talk with the Omaha, Nebraska-based firm about local laws governing maintenance, noise and upkeep of property. If Union Pacific fails to comply with River Forest's standards, trustees unanimously agreed to seek legal action against the railroad.
"Union Pacific owes [residents] some action to clean up their property. Whatever we need to do within our legal rights and good neighborly rights, we should impose that immediately because it's long overdue," Village President Cathy Adduci said at the meeting.
As part of the construction project, Union Pacific crews have removed trees, shrubs and bushes along the line, and residents near the tracks have complained about debris and other garbage left behind, officials said. Although federal laws govern most railroad operations, pre-empting local laws regarding speed and similar concerns, Village Attorney Greg Smith said River Forest could hold the railroad liable for maintenance, since cleaning up its tracks doesn't interfere with Union Pacific's operations or interstate commerce.
"River Forest has a high property maintenance standard, obviously, for all its [property] owners and you can hold the railroads to that standard as well," Smith said, noting that the village has already talked to Union Pacific about trains idling as crews work on their tracks in River Forest and further west, and that the firm has paid tens of thousands of dollars in agreed-upon fines because they've recognized they haven't always been a great neighbor.
Village Administrator Eric Palm said railroad officials have agreed to sit down with residents.
"Union Pacific has always said they want to be a good neighbor so we're going to take them up on their offer," he said.
If Union Pacific is unable to meet local standards regarding noise and property maintenance, the village could issue an ordinance citation to the railroad company, and fine the firm, either in administrative adjudication or in circuit court.
"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," Adduci said.
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