Clarendon Hills prepared for train troubles
Many Clarendon Hills residents use the Metra train station in the village to board commuter trains that take them to work in Chicago. | Chuck Fieldman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 3, 2012 12:29PM
CLARENDON HILLS — Having an average of 143 trains pass through Clarendon Hills in a 24-hour period means measures need to be in place in the event of a rail-related emergency.
Fire Chief Brian Leahy of the Clarendon Hills Fire Department said representatives of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad visit the village every 18 months to provide training to firefighters.
“We also meet periodically with BNSF and Metra and have direct-contact numbers to their emergency personnel,” Leahy said, adding measures are in place for about any time of rail disaster or less severe problem.
“We have a section in our emergency operation plan about trains,” Leahy said. “We have training and procedures for handling problems with the actual train cars and engines and with evacuations.”
Leahy has been with the Clarendon Hills Fire Department since 1971 and has never experienced a train derailment in the village. However, there have been other emergency situations to which the Fire Department has responded.
“We’ve had a few fires in the engines and rail cars,” he said. “Our guys are trained in how to get into those cars, how to remove glass, and how to deal all the specifics of a train emergency.”
As for an emergency situation involving hazardous materials being transported by train through Clarendon Hills, circumstances could greatly vary, Leahy said.
“It would depend on what the material is and several other factors, such as which way the wind is blowing,” he said. “Something like coal would just leave a big mess.”
Firefighters from Hinsdale and Clarendon Hills will meet in September to review what they would do if a train derailed in their towns. Representatives of the DuPage County Office of Emergency Management will join officials from both towns’ police, fire and public works departments.
Hinsdale Assistant Fire Chief Tim McElroy will present a specific situation, namely a train derailing as it goes west below Route 83. The participants will discuss what their response would be to various circumstances, based on their existing emergency response plan.
“We are going to test the plan to see how well it works,” McElroy said. “There will be a lot of expertise in the room. They can point out things you can put in the plan to improve it.”
The Doings and Pioneer Press have sent Freedom of Information Act requests to several agencies that deal with railroads asking for information, such as inspection reports, about rail bridges.
Clarendon Hills does not have any such bridges, but BNSF operates more than 100 trains and serves more than 70,000 passengers daily for Metra on the Chicago-Aurora line, which passes through the area.
The CTA has denied the request on the grounds that it was too burdensome, an exemption allowed under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. Pioneer Press asked for information on rail bridges in more than 50 communities that are in the newspaper group’s coverage area. While there are no railroad bridges in Clarendon Hills, commuters to Chicago ride over several on Metra.
Amtrak and Metra have indicated they are working on the requests. The Doings is working with the Federal Railroad Administration to get information about railroad tracks.
Along with the Metra commuter trains, about 35 daily freight trains and eight Amtrak trains also make their ways through Clarendon Hills.
— Kimberly Fornek contributed to this article.