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OUR VIEW: Train delays more than an inconvenience

Traffic gets backed up at the Ottawa railroad crossing on Route 23 north of Norris Drive — near Jefferson Elementary School — in August 2010. This is an issue drivers have faced for years. City officials now are investigating means to eliminate train delays.
Traffic gets backed up at the Ottawa railroad crossing on Route 23 north of Norris Drive — near Jefferson Elementary School — in August 2010. This is an issue drivers have faced for years. City officials now are investigating means to eliminate train delays.

THE ISSUE: Ottawa officials seek study to eliminate train delays

OUR VIEW: It's about time

Some call it the "Ottawa pause."

Anyone who frequently travels through Ottawa has been stopped by a train. For 10 minutes or more, motorists watch as the train cars slowly move back and forth while lines of vehicles sit idling.

If you're unfortunate to be in the middle of the pack with no exit, you have no choice but to wait ... and wait ... and wait. Approaching cars quickly execute U-turns, with hopes of finding an alternative route that will either get them over the tracks quicker or at least keep them moving.

Familiar thoughts run through your head:

"What the heck is taking so long?"

"What if an ambulance has to get through?"

"Why is it moving BACKWARDS!?!"

It's safe to say the train situation in Ottawa has many motorists seeing red. And it's been this way for years.

But is there a light at the end of the tunnel? City officials sure hope so.

Last week, Ottawa City Council members announced they plan to seek a $75,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Transportation to study ways to solve the traffic problems caused by Illinois Railnet trains running through the city's North Side.

“I think everybody here is familiar with what some people call the Ottawa pause,” City Engineer Dave Noble said at last week's council meeting. “The trains stop everything on Routes 23 and Champlain Street and there you sit.”

Noble said solutions might include anything from relocating the nearby rail switching yard to installing viaducts.

“It’s an attempt to solve the problem,” Noble said.

The council plans to hire the engineering firm of Hanson Professional Services to complete the application at a cost of $1,700. The council will vote on that contract at an upcoming meeting.

Now, we don't want to get too excited just yet. If the grant is approved, this is just a study. Realistically, if anything can be done there's likely a hefty price tag attached. And more grant applications to complete. And more studies.

But aside from city officials trying to work with Railnet to cut down the switching times, this is a solid move to attempt to eliminate a problem that affects thousands of motorists daily. Sometimes multiple times a day.

This is more than an inconvenience. The trains delay emergency vehicles. Parents are late picking up their children from school. When the situation presents safety issues, it's time to act.

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