This time, CN quiet zone moving ahead

Railroad will pay share of costs for improving grade crossings

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Riverside, North Riverside and Berwyn are hoping they will be able to establish a quiet zone along the Canadian National Railroad tracks from First Avenue to Riverside Drive by the end of the year now that the railroad has agreed to pay for a pair of expensive grade-crossing improvements.

At a press conference Monday morning on Desplaines Avenue near the tracks, North Riverside Mayor Richard Scheck announced the deal, brokered between the railroad and the villages by U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd).

"The best thing I can say is, 'Silence is golden,'" said Scheck, standing with Lipinski, Berwyn Mayor Michael O'Connor and Riverside Village President Harold J. Wiaduck Jr. along with officials from CN Railroad.

"When we say this is going to improve the quality of life for people, it's not just a phrase for us," Scheck said.

The Federal Railway Administration (FRA) sets guidelines for when train conductors must sound their horns at grade crossings and takes into account safety measures at each crossing.

Berwyn, North Riverside and Riverside joined forces in 2006 to determine just how much it might cost to fund grade crossing improvements that would enable the towns to establish a quiet zone along the CN line.

After determining barrier medians would need to be installed at Harlem Avenue (south of 26th Street) and Cermak Road (east of First Avenue), officials estimated it would cost each town roughly $40,000 to $50,000.

But they later learned that the federal agency also required constant warning timing devices at all crossings; those devices were needed at both Desplaines Avenue and Hainsworth Avenue in North Riverside.

According to Kevin Soucie, senior manager of governmental affairs for CN, the devices better predict the arrival of trains in the crossing.

While Soucie said he didn't have an estimate of cost for the timing devices, Riverside Village Manager Kathleen Rush said that installing them at the two grade crossings was prohibitive and derailed the three towns' efforts to establish the quiet zone.

But the towns may have been helped by their support - and Lipinski's support - of CN's proposed purchase of the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway, which was drawing fire from outer-ring Chicago suburbs, which complained that increased train traffic would affect their quality of life.

In August 2008, Scheck and Wiaduck announced the formation of a lobbying group to advocate for the purchase. At a press conference announcing the formation of the group, Lipinski, a member of the House Transportation Committee, publicly lent CN's proposal his support.

Asked if there was a timeline for the completion of the improvements to the grade crossings at Desplaines Avenue and Hainsworth Avenue, Soucie was non-committal. However, Scheck stepped in to put a date on the project.

"We're looking for a November completion, and I know we're going to get the cooperation of the railroad on this," Scheck said.

The three towns will also split the costs of the physical improvements to the other grade crossings, which are necessary before the federal agency will sign off on a quiet zone agreement.

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