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Franklin Park gets federal funding to figure out a way to reduce rail crossing congestion

Franklin Park is looking into closing some railroad crossings and building an underpass to reduce conflicts between train and car traffic in the middle of the village.

2:25 PM CDT on June 16, 2023

The 25th Avenue railroad crossing (looking southwest) is one of the Metra/Canadian Pacific crossings that might get an underpass to relieve freight rail congestion. Image Google Maps

The Village of Franklin Park is looking into closing some railroad crossings and building an underpass to reduce conflicts between train and car traffic along the passenger and freight tracks running through the middle of the village.

Several railroad lines crisscross the village, but Franklin Park is focusing on the Milwaukee District West Metra Line tracks and the Canadian Pacific freight tracks that run parallel to them. Franklin Park got $8 million in federal planning and design funding. But Nicholas Walny, Franlkin Park’s senior planner, told Streetsblog that they haven’t settled on any details. The funding will be used to figure out which street would get the underpass and which crossings will be closed. Franklin Park doesn’t have a timeline for when the study will be complete, let alone when the actual construction will start.   

Franklin Park has multiple freight lines. Most notably, Canadian National tracks cross the village, heading north toward Wisconsin, and Metra/Canadian Pacific tracks head west toward Elgin. A Canadian Pacific intermodal freight yard is located on the piece of incorporated land within the northwest corner of Franklin Park, near the south edge of the O’Hare Airport. The Canadian Pacific/Canadian National railroad crossing is where Metra’s North Central service splits off from the Milwaukee District West tracks and heads north. 

A map of Franklin Park, with Metra's Milwaukee District West (yellow) and North Central Service (purple) lines shown. Image: Google Maps

Like many Chicago area suburbs, Franklin Park deals with the issue of long freight trains blocking several crossings at a time for several minutes, if not longer. Walny said that this is an especially pressing issue for emergency services, which currently have no choice but to go around the blocked-off crossings. It also snarls deliveries to the industrial corridors near the railroad tracks. The 2017 village comprehensive plan identified “train-related congestion” as a major issue, signaling out the CN/CP crossing as a major congestion point. It recommended investment in grade separation, as well as track switches and signal improvements. 

The freight train crossings also affect other modes of public transportation. Pace bus Route 303, which runs between the CTA Blue Line’s Forest Park terminal and Rosemont station, largely follows 25th Avenue/Rose Avenue corridor in Franklin Park, passing near the Milwaukee District West Line’s downtown Franklin Park station. Freight train congestion disrupts the transit connections and causes delays (something this reporter experienced first-hand while covering the local high school district a few years ago). 

The federal funding comes from the Federal Railroad Administration's new Railroad Crossing Elimination grant program, which was launched as part of the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. According to the FRA press release, the first round of grants aims to “address more than 400 at-grade crossings nationwide, improve safety, and make it easier to get around railroad tracks by adding grade separations, closing at-grade crossings, and improving existing at-grade crossings where train tracks and roads intersect.”

The first round funded 63 projects in 32 states, and Franklin Park project is the only project in the Chicago area and one of only two in Illinois. The $8 million in FRA funding will cover about 80 percent of the project costs – Franklin Park must cover the rest out of its own pocket.

Walny said that the village plans to close “one or more grade crossing” and build an underpass at another one, but that “we don’t have an identified grade crossing yet as to where it would be going.” He said that they won’t even begin looking for funding until the study is complete, and they don’t have the timeline for when it might be completed.

 There are five grade crossings on the Franklin Park portion of Metra/Canadian Pacific tracks – 25th Avenue, Calwagner Street, Edgington Street, Ruby Street and Scott Street. 25th Avenue and Scott Street are both busy thoroughfares, and the former serves the local high school, East Leyden High School.

The Franklin Park village hall, police station and other village departments are located along Edgington, just north of the tracks. The street’s grade separation is listed in Illinois Commerce Commission’s Fiscal Year 2024 – 2028 as one of the potential grade separation projects eligible for state capital funding.

In a statement to the media, U.S. Representative Delia Ramirez (D-3rd), whose district includes the section of Franklin Park north of the Metra/CP tracks, described the funding as the investment “that demonstrates our collective resolve to protect our neighborhoods and continuously work towards people-centered, rather than profit-driven, transportation infrastructure.”

“I will continue working with the communities and local leaders to ensure that this funding helps address the concerns of my constituents,” she said.

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