As one of six people to testify at a hearing on Feb. 5 on Capitol Hill regarding train activity and blocked grade crossings, 19th Ward Ald. Matt O’Shea criticized CSX Transportation, Inc., which manages multiple local railroad lines and has come under fire in recent years for problems on those lines.
O’Shea said federal regulation has failed to protect his constituents from CSX problems, and he discussed several examples of blocked crossings creating dangerous situations.
He called on Congress to do more and said the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB) hasn’t held CSX accountable.
“The bottom line here is that the federal government has largely failed us,” O’Shea said. “CSX is essentially unregulated, from our standpoint.”
The U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials hosted the meeting. U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd), who represents Beverly, Morgan Park and Mt. Greenwood, is the chairman of the committee.
CSX officials did not return a message seeking comment.
Locally, CSX has operated the Blue Island Subdivision Line and the Elsdon Line since 2013, when it agreed with the STB to follow certain conditions, including cutting trains that blocked a crossing for over 10 minutes and notifying emergency service dispatch centers if crossings were blocked for a significant amount of time.
O’Shea specifically targeted the Elsdon Line, which runs along South Sacramento Avenue in Mt. Greenwood.
Federal leaders oversee train activity—because lines often cross state boundaries—and O’Shea and other elected officials wrote a letter to Lipinski and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin in the fall of 2015 requesting help.
In February 2016, they filed a petition with the STB, an independent federal agency, seeking penalties against CSX.
The STB then increased requirements for CSX, including more frequent reports on train activity.
At the hearing, O’Shea requested that CSX officials install a video monitoring system at area hospitals—as CSX agreed to do in 2013—to allow hospital staff to determine if crossings are blocked when emergency vehicles need to get through.
Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn still does not have the video system, O’Shea said, and his inquiry to OSF HealthCare Little Company of Mary Medical Center (LCMM) in Evergreen Park was not answered.
He said one local resident reported that she could not reach LCMM when her grandfather was dying—and missed saying goodbye to him by 15 minutes due to a blocked crossing.
He also said physicians, police officers and other first responders have reported not being able to respond to an emergency in an adequate amount of time because of blocked crossings.
Problems still exist, he said, that aren’t being addressed.
“We still experience several blocked at-grade crossings each month,” O’Shea said. “In addition, the STB has taken the very unusual position of holding off on specific action, leaving the community in a wait-and-see stance.”
O’Shea questioned why the STB has not confirmed CSX “is abiding by its promises.”
“Why do we allow this huge company to just tell us they did something and take their word for it?” O’Shea said. “How can local communities rely on the promises of the railroads or the enforcement powers of the federal government if nobody will do anything–even when there have been repeated, consistent and demonstrated violations? This is why action by Congress is necessary.”
O’Shea called on legislators to require that moving trains clear crossings in 3 minutes or less, and, if a moving or stopped train blocks a crossing for 10 minutes or more, to impose a fine for every minute a blockage continues.
“These straightforward performance-focused measures give railroads full discretion and flexibility,” O’Shea said, “to take whatever measures they require to achieve compliance.”
After the hearing, O’Shea sent a mass email to constituents thanking Lipinski for inviting him to testify.
O’Shea said over 200 residents have provided feedback on their railroad experiences.
To view the hearing, visit transportation.house.gov.