Peter Hayden has lived in Flossmoor for nearly 40 years. And he lives very close to the railroad that bisects the town.
“I live 175 feet from the tracks,” Hayden said Monday, adding that until a few years ago, train noise was never a problem.
“It would be over in 90 seconds,” he said. “Now I am hearing noise from the trains four hours a day.”
Since CN Railroad took over the EJ&E line six years ago, “the nature of my community has changed,” Hayden told the Flossmoor Village Board.
“Now I don’t have a rail line behind my house. Our rail line has become a rail yard.”
Hayden and other residents complained to the board that CN is using the tracks through Flossmoor as an adjunct of the giant Markham Yard, located just north of downtown Homewood. Trains are routinely parked on the Flossmoor tracks for hours, they said. The effects of train “building” nearly two miles to the north produces screeching, booming noise on a 24/7 basis that severely impacts the quality of life, residents said.
“I cannot get a night’s sleep because of the rail yard out there,” Hayden said.
Flossmoor officials recently met with their CN counterparts after receiving an increasing number of complaints about the railroad. Jim Kvedaras, CN’s director of government affairs, agreed to appear at Monday’s meeting and to respond to citizen complaints.
Kvedaras said Flossmoor is fortunate because no rail crossings are at grade level, which generally leads to the largest number of complaints against railroads. He said 15 trains a day go through Flossmoor, which is unchanged since CN took over the EJ&E system.
However, Flossmoor is at a disadvantage because of its location. Vollmer Road is “the southernmost limit of access” to the Markham Yard and some starting and stopping occurs in the Flossmoor area as trains wait their turn to go north. Trains leaving the yard are generally about 7,700 feet in length, nearly 1.5 miles. When they are being built, trains are routinely moved forward or into reverse.
“There is give and take between cars,” Kvedaras said. “That’s what makes that ‘boom-boom-boom-boom’ sound.”
The Markham Yard, he said, is the nation’s largest intermodal facility.
Kvedaras offered a personal apology for any inconvenience caused by the railroad. He identified himself as a lifelong Homewood resident who has worked for railroads, starting with the former Illinois Central, since 1981. CN, he said, has a responsibility to move goods across the nation as quickly, efficiently and safely as possible.
About 25 residents were at Monday’s meeting and they indicated that the railroad needs to do more to be a good neighbor.
“It’s the parking and idling,” said David Kowalski, a 28-year resident. “It was never an issue until (CN) took over.”
Last Christmas, Kowalski said, a train was parked outside his house for 12 hours.
“It’s hard to believe that there was even an engineer on that train,” he said.
Tom Sykes, another resident, said other communities have turned to regulations that curb railroad noise. Hoffman Estates limits the decibel level of its trains, he said, and CN agreed to soundproofing walls in Matteson and Richton Park before the merger with EJ&E was approved.
“What’s happening at night is unacceptable,” Sykes said. “When a train idles at 11:45 at night – and that happened last night – it’s like a Harley-Davidson revving up outside Flossmoor Station.”
Sykes said the problems with the railroad have reached the tipping point and some kinds of noise abatement procedures are needed.
“The rail yard is clogged,” he said. “We understand that. But that’s not our problem.”
Flossmoor Mayor Paul Braun opened Monday’s discussion by saying that the village has no control over the trains in its midst. Railroads are regulated by the federal government and local governments have little to say about how they operate.
“That does not mean railroads should not be a good neighbor,” Braun said.
Monday’s back-and-forth between Kvedaras and the residents took nearly one hour. When it was finished, Braun said Flossmoor’s village staff will look into what Hoffman Estates and other towns have done to curb railroad noise.
“We’ll see what other communities have done and if there is anything we can do,” he said