Railroads laid tracks long before the suburbs sprawled out around them. Congress, in its collective wisdom, decreed that the train had the right of way at all crossings. Had to keep the U.S. moving, ever moving, further west, across the entire continent.
So here we are, all these years later, and there are cars on the roads where none used to be, when railroads were granted the right of way. The enormous diesel engines chug along, unstopping, while the motorists pull up to the gates and wait. If you live in a town where a lot of freight trains cross, you do a lot of waiting with your car engine idling and burning expensive gas.
Canadian National would like to buy a little belt line that winds through Chicago's suburbs, bypassing the congested freight yards of the big city. The railroad men find it a brilliant idea. The little-used line would get used, heavily, so that freight could move around without the train having to wait for other trains to clear the track.
The once sleepy farm towns where the tracks run are now bustling suburbs, and the folks who live there don't want to spend their days at railroad crossings, waiting. They are less than thrilled with the notion of heavy freight traffic criss-crossing their downtown area, sharing the road with a fleet of school buses that have been hit by trains in the past.
CN CEO E. Hunter Harrison has slapped down the residents with the mighty cudgel of economics. If Canadian National doesn't get to do what it wants, why, Chicago won't be the rail capital of the world anymore. Trains will stop....well, no, actually, the rails are there, the system is there, and there's nowhere else for the trains to go. They have to run on the rails, wouldn't you know it.
Jobs will be lost, he says, to a population that doesn't work on the railroads. Who cares about those jobs?
The area's economy will be hurt, he concludes. Actually, the area's economy would be hurt by an increase in rail traffic, which stops car traffic, which keeps folks from moving around and through the affected towns. Stores do less business, people travel to avoid train crossings, and the downtown areas would suffer.
You want the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern line? Build an overpass at every level crossing. Let the cars flow freely, and you can put your trains where you like. That's the deal that's been proposed. Of course, CN has turned that down flat. It would cost a small fortune to keep the cars and the trains both moving at the same time. The railroad is looking to buy the EJ&E to increase their profits, not to add to expenses.
After hearing the complaints of those who would be affected by CN's move, Mr. Harrison suggested that those who would seek to stop his train are engaging in "Not In My Back Yard" tactics. They'll have to learn to live with his railroad, as far as he's concerned. Let them eat cake.