A suburban village said a proposed underpass is needed now more than ever after a train blocked four grade level rail crossings for nearly an hour and delayed ambulances carrying accident victims to the hospital.
Officials in Barrington said residents, commuters and first responders experienced a “perfect storm” on June 12 as a Canadian National train stopped on the tracks due to a mechanical failure during the 5:00 p.m. rush hour and created backups throughout the village and surrounding communities.
“Ours is truly a project of regional significance. It affects our community and the entire northwest region,” said village president Karen Darch.
First responders were called to the scene of a DUI crash at Ela Road and US Route 14 just before the train stoppage. Two injured people had to be extracted from the vehicles and transported to Good Shepherd Hospital.
According to the village, the first responders were unaware that the train crossings were blocked when they set out en route to the hospital. When they arrived at the Route 14 crossing at Lake Zurich Road, a village spokesperson said they found it blocked.
The ambulances were then routed further north into Lake Zurich in order to transport the patients to Good Shepherd Hospital. Police said the incident delayed first responders in getting to the hospital by at least twenty minutes.
“Any first responder will tell you that time is critical,” said Barrington Police Chief David Dorn.
Fortunately, the patients did not sustain life-threatening injuries.
A spokesperson for Canadian National said the train crew immediately went to work repairing the issue last month as other representatives were in touch with local emergency services to provide information about the stopped train and blocked crossings.
Darch said the trains have gotten longer and slower since Canadian National purchased the EJ&E railroad tracks in 2008. She said the village has argued for ten years that CN should pay a portion of the $73.5 million grade separation project at Route 14 to prevent future incidents.
“It’s a cost of doing business to bring freight through a town and completely block it up,” Darch said. “There should be a greater amount of money spent to mitigate that impact.”
A federal appeals court has denied the village’s request for funding from the railroad three times, most recently citing insufficient evidence that train congestion is the problem.
Canadian National said blockages lasting ten minutes or longer to crossings in Barrington remained consistently low during an eight year monitoring period which ended in January 2017.
But village officials argue that long CN trains can block every crossing in town at once because there is a distance of 5,918 feet separating the first crossing from the fourth crossing.
“If they’re stopped in town it creates a horrible situation,” Darch said. “That time delay means life or death.”
Tom Kranz operates an auto body shop near one of Barrington’s rail crossings and said while he has seen more trains, any improvement projects could be a huge undertaking.
“It would have been smarter had they built the tracks and road crossing on different levels when they put them in, but to do it now, it would be pretty tough,” Kranz said.
But resident Don Samuelson said the village needs an underpass “badly”.
“Somebody’s gonna die waiting for an ambulance to come,” Samuelson said.
The village said it has applied for federal and state grants to hopefully get an underpass built within a few years.