Round of applause for Homewood schools supporters

Crashing. Banging. Clanging. At all hours of the day and night.

Especially at night, when noise from the trains in our midst jars us from a good night’s sleep.

  Tom Houlihan

Welcome to warm weather nights in Homewood and Flossmoor.

Last fall, after a group of Flossmoor residents protested to the village board about train noise coming from the CN tracks, I briefly wondered if the railroad had, indeed, taken steps to reduce the clatter. I live about two blocks from the tracks and it seemed quieter at night. So I asked CN officials if anything was different.

No, I was told. Everything is pretty much the same. CN runs trains in and out of Markham Yard 24/7. Traffic through Homewood and Flossmoor totals about 15 trains a day.

Then I realized. The windows are closed. The furnace is running. There are sounds offsetting the noise from the trains. Duh.

Let me stop here and point out that I like trains. I like them a whole bunch. I like riding them. I like watching them. I am at the point in my life when I don’t even mind being stopped by a train when I am driving. 

Today’s railroad engines are magnificent pieces of engineering, and there is something in their being able to move goods efficiently and, seemingly, effortlessly that is almost poetical.
I also know that we live smack-dab in one of the world’s great hubs for surface transportation. 

That about one-quarter of all rail traffic in the U.S. passes through the Chicago metropolitan area, and that a good percentage of those trains traverse our South Suburbs.
We are talking about an important industry, and one with enormous benefits to our area.

But why does it have to be so noisy in our towns?

At last November’s village board meeting, Flossmoor residents complained about two main sources of noise — engines idling on the tracks and train building.

“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,” resident Tom Sykes said.

As for train building, CN Director of Governmental Affairs Jim Kvedaras explained at the meeting that cars are routinely moved forward or into reverse when that takes place.

“There is give and take between cars,” Kvedaras said. “That’s what makes that ‘boom-boom-boom-boom’ sound.”

That “give and take” leads to some interesting questions. Such as, why is train building going on outside the Markham Yard? At 3 a.m., why do I get to hear the sounds of trains being built two blocks from my house — and a mile-and-half south of the Markham Yard?

Part of this has to do with simple mathematics. And part of it has to do with our location.

Freight trains are about 7,770 feet long, Kvedaras said last fall. That is just about a mile-and-a-half, the distance between Flossmoor Road and the Dixie Highway viaduct in Homewood, the southernmost limit of the Markham Yard.

If trains are being built all along the tracks in Homewood and Flossmoor, this is essentially the zone where all this extremely loud giving and taking is going on.

You could also make the case that the tracks in Homewood and Flossmoor are essentially being used as an industrial park. Flossmoor has no zoning provisions for industrial property but is now split in half by what appears to be an industrial facility. However, village officials have no control over what goes on along the tracks.

As for location, our proximity to the Markham Yard is giving us noises that you only get when train building is taking place. Or when trains are sitting on the tracks as they wait to go into the yard. The towns along the CN tracks south of us —  Matteson or Richton Park or University Park — don’t get those noises.

One more thing. This is not just a case of people in Flossmoor whining about train noise. Here are a few Facebook comments from Homewood residents earlier this month. 

“I’m on Perth across from Walt’s. It literally sounds like the trains are crashing in my front yard.”

“They were absolutely ridiculous last night … I swear they were banging them together.  I’m on Morris and it kept me up pretty much all night.”

“I came home from work about an hour ago and couldn’t believe how loud it was. I too thought it was thunder at first.”

“It’s getting worse every month. No idea what’s going on. This can’t be legal.”

I am sure CN wants to be a good neighbor. 

Last fall, the railroad officials forwarded me the phone number and email address for anyone wishing to file a complaint. You can leave messages at [email protected] or 888-888-5909.

Now that warmer temperatures are here, they’d be glad to hear from you.

Note: This column originally appeared in the April print edition of the Chronicle.

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