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Leadership on rail traffic is needed
Letter to the Editor
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Published: 5/20/2008 12:10 AM

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May the proposed CN-EJ&E buyout prod our region to finally have the important discussion on a major aspect of our transportation, economic and environmental future. In short, how can we ensure efficient and safe passage of freight and commuter rail traffic through our growing and increasingly gridlocked region? Without Canadian National's proposal to purchase the EJ&E we would still not be having this vital discussion.

Several ongoing dynamics continue to forestall a solution. The myopic self-interest of our region's roughly 300 municipalities and 1,000 units of local government preclude a discussion of the common good. While voicing legitimate concerns, the current and growing suburban opposition to the CN-EJ&E buyout smacks of NIMBY.

In fairness though, our area's metropolitan planning organization, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), and its precursors, have failed as effective regional brokers and able communicators to those they serve. Who even knows CMAP exists?

Meanwhile, railroads remain reluctant and seemingly unable to tell their story. Sadly, to the many railroads that traverse our region, our towns and cities are things they roll through, not opportunities for communication with actual neighbors and potential allies.

Political leadership is essential to a solution and is mostly non-existent. During his long-tenure as House Speaker, Dennis Hastert did not advance the CREATE project, a visionary proposal by the railroads to untangle our mess. Our Washington delegation still is not stepping up with resources and neither is our governor nor the General Assembly.

I live in south suburban Frankfort and share my village's thoughtful concerns that increased rail traffic would bring. But I don't share in opposing the plan outright. The EJ&E passes right behind our home. As former residents of Blue Island we know that excessive rail traffic is more than an inconvenience.

Let's work to identify and address the real safety, environmental and logistical issues. Also, the CREATE proposal remains viable so let's figure out a way to pay for it. Regional prosperity requires shared sacrifice and bold leadership. I see nothing in this current debate that can't be solved by goodwill and some give and take.

Todd Dietterle