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Barrington-area groups still fighting purchase of railway
By Chad Brooks | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 1/31/2008 1:23 PM

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The Barrington-area community continued its fight Thursday over the proposed purchase of the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway Co.

Elected officials, emergency response personnel and residents from the Barrington area spoke out on the proposed sale of the rail line, which runs right through the heart of their community.

The group gathered at the Thompson Center in Chicago just prior to the start of hearing on the issue in front of the General Assembly's railroad safety committee.

Barrington Village President Karen Darch said the sale poses numerous safety concerns, including the ability for firefighters and paramedics to reach residents in life-threatening situations.

"This is about life or death for our communities," Darch said.

Canadian National is proposing to spend $300 million on the EJ&E line, which runs in an arc from Waukegan to Gary, Ind., through Lake, Cook, DuPage and Will counties.

CN officials plan to use the EJ&E line as a bypass route for current and future freight traffic from its Canadian and U.S. rail network.

CN officials, who could not immediately be reached for this story, have said the move would be beneficial for the Chicago region as a whole.

But the Barrington area has been vocal in its opposition to sale, which could bring an additional 15 freight trains through the area each day.

Mike Deering, director of communications for Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, said the EJ&E line essentially cuts the hospital's service area in half. So if trains are blocking the crossing, ambulances could be delayed in getting patients to the hospital.

"Lives will be lost because of these rolling barriers," he said.

Among those in attendance at the gathering to show their opposition to the sale were Barrington Area Unit District 220 Superintendent Tom Leonard, Barrington Fire Chief Jim Arie, North Barrington Village President Bruce Sauer, Hoffman Estates Village President Bill McLeod and several of his trustees.

"This affects communities way beyond the Barrington area," McLeod said.

CN officials have said 80 towns will benefit from the sale. But Darch believes that will only be temporary.

"There will only be a short-term move off of those lines," Darch said, saying CN could sell or lease those lines to another rail company.

Following the rally, representatives of the Illinois Department of Transportation, Illinois Commerce Commission and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning testified in front of the state railroad safety committee, chaired by State Rep. Elaine Nekritz of Northbrook.

The goal of Thursday's hearing was not to debate the merits of the sale, Nekritz said.

"We are trying to figure out what the state's role (in the sale) is," she said.

Representatives from each agency said it's too early on in the process to say whether or not they would support it.

"There are a lot of substantive questions that still need to be addressed," IDOT Chief of Staff Clayton Harris III said.

The agencies said they're waiting to see the results of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board's environmental impact study, which is being conducted now. No date for when that will be completed has been released.

"We simply do not have enough information yet to determine whether this acquisition is in the region's best interest," said Randy Blankenhorn, executive director for the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.

Nekritz said she plans to study the materials presented Thursday before deciding what action the committee should take next.