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Batavia residents sound off on high decibel train noise

Freight trains rolling through ClarendHills Hinsdale LGrange Western Springs carry variety cargo between Chicago other parts North America. | Chuck

Freight trains rolling through Clarendon Hills, Hinsdale, La Grange and Western Springs carry a variety of cargo between Chicago and other parts of North America. | Chuck Fieldman~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 8, 2013 7:40AM

BATAVIA — Residents from neighborhoods near the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway spur tracks want the city to squelch the high-decibel train horns that sound at the eight public grade crossings on the east side of town.

“The trains are obnoxious,” a Webster street resident told aldermen. “Each time they sound it wakes our children. We are seriously thinking about moving. It seems to be getting louder.”

In response to years of complaints about the whistle blasts, the city hired consultants to prepare conceptual cost estimates and preliminary engineering for upgrades and improvements to create “quiet zones” for eight public grade crossings.

Original estimates of $4 million were reduced to $3 million by this week’s presentation before members of the City Services Committee.

The slow-moving freight trains, running five to six days a week carrying plastic pellets and grain from the BNSF Eola train yard in Aurora to Batavia and back again from West Chicago, sound their whistles from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.

Engineering consultant James Bibby of Rempe-Sharpe & Associates of Geneva was the bearer of news the city had already expected but residents did not want to hear. Bibby said “no federal funding is available” for public grade railroad crossings.

“I confirmed that with the Federal Railroad Administration this afternoon,” Bibby said.

He also said any prospective improvements would be “a several year process,” which prompted a few grumblings from the dozens of residents in the audience.

Bibby said state funding is feasible through the Illinois Commerce Commission, but more technical work would be needed in order to prepare a grant application, which members of the committee supported.

A Laurel Street resident said the cost estimates likely would be obsolete years from now and suggested a simpler solution — popping 50-cent ear plugs into his ears.

“I have used them in the house, outside and it works with the spouse,” he said, drawing laughter.

“We enjoy living near the downtown but there is a startling contrast to what happens at night when the trains come through,” said a Webster Street resident, who returned to his hometown to raise his family.

“I do sleep with ear plugs, but I am still not used to the train whistles. Some engineers are worse than others and sometimes trains idle behind the 7-Eleven creating exhaust fumes,” he said. “In some respects, we understand the high cost associated with making a $3 million to $4 million investment, but think of the disincentive the trains will have on future housing redevelopments in the downtown. The city has already spent millions to improve the downtown.,”

“I would be in favor of any proposal that would quiet the horns,” said a resident who lives near Bond Drive. “The horns wake me up every night the trains come by at 11 p.m., 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. It’s hard to get back to sleep. I use ear plugs and an air purifier. I have only been here two years and I am ready to move out because of the trains.”

Alderman Susan Stark said while she lives close enough to the railroad tracks to have the trains rattle her dishes, she has reservations over the potential price tag to fix the problem.

“A train going through at 4 o’clock in the afternoon at the intersection of Prairie and Wilson would probably have a lot more people upset than the people currently awakened in the middle of the night by the horn blowing,” Stark said. “This is one of those ‘you can’t please everybody’ kinds of scenarios.”

Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke said there is a train crossing on Route 25 outside of the city limits where train horns blast directly toward Batavia’s southeast neighborhoods. He said the city has no control over that crossing.

Bibby said they did not look at crossings south of the city, but there may be something that could be looked at conceptually to reduce the number of horn blasts and magnitude of noise at night from the south.

Schielke suggested the city focus on the residential areas between Laurel and Wilson streets and the crossing at Wilson at Prairie streets.

“I commend the city staff, but this is not an easy thing to address. I am glad we are looking at it and trying to make determinations,” Schielke said.

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