The Burlington Northern-Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad has informed the Village of Riverside that it must come up with a plan to rehab the pedestrian underpass at Longcommon Road by March or the railroad may close it.
Riverside’s response? Go right ahead.
On Dec. 5, village trustees agreed that the cost to rehabilitate the 90-year-old tunnel outweighed its benefits to the few commuters that use it as a way to cross the tracks.
“I think to do it right it would cost an awful lot of money,” said Village President Harold J. Wiaduck Jr. “When you consider how it’s used compared to the cost of maintenance, it really calls into question whether it’s an expense we want to continue.”
According to a Dec. 5 study done by Michael Hullihan, the village’s director of Public Works, water and vibrations from trains have damaged the grout between the concrete blocks that make up the tunnel walls and the plaster that covers them.
If the deterioration of the tunnel continues, Hullihan reported, the track bed will become unstable. That fact has prompted the BNSF to inform the village that if steps aren’t taken to improve the tunnel, it will take steps to close the tunnel.
Hullihan provided three options for rehabilitating the tunnel. The cheapest, which would entail inserting a steel lining inside the tunnel, comes with a price tag of nearly $600,000. While it would be the easiest and cheapest rehab solution, it would shrink the interior dimensions of the tunnel to 76 inches high by 60 inches wide.
Two other options, both considerably more expensive would entail constructing a new tunnel, including new lighting, access and drainage. Hullihan estimated that a non-ADA-compliant tunnel would cost about $1.3 million, while an ADA-compliant tunnel would cost upward of $1.6 million.
In addition, an ADA-compliant tunnel would require ramps that would trigger significant changes to both the north and south platforms.
By contrast, allowing the BNSF to close the tunnel would cost the village less than $50,000. The railroad would be responsible for filling the tunnel itself, while the village would be responsible for removing stairs and railings and installing a slab to cover the entrances.
At the same time, Hullihan said that sealing the tunnel wouldn’t inconvenience very many commuters and pedestrians.
“Traffic counts show that less than a dozen commuters use the tunnel in the morning and evening,” Hullihan said
Trustees were unanimous in their agreement to let the railroad close the tunnel if it chose to do so. Trustee Kevin Smith added one caveat, saying that “there is a safety component” to the tunnel and that “once it’s closed it’s gone.”
At the same time, Smith admitted, “I don’t want to spend that amount of money on it that it will take.”
Incidents involving trains striking pedestrians trying to cross the tracks is rare at the Longcommon crossing, although an Oak Park woman riding across the tracks in August was struck and killed by an express train.
In that case, however, the woman was not a commuter. Rather, she was a cyclist who may have misinterpreted a signal from the conductor of a train stopped in the crossing as a sign to proceed across the tracks.
The woman’s family has since filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the BNSF and Metra.
In June a Riverside woman apparently running to catch a commuter train at the Harlem Avenue crossing at the Berwyn/Riverside border was struck and killed by a freight train.