Are we ready for a train derailment in Western Springs?
A freight train chugs west through Western Springs. | Jane Michaels~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 3, 2012 12:38PM
WESTERN SPRINGS — The village has an average of 143 freight and passenger trains rolling over the Burlington line each day, said BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth.
But who is responsible for train line and bridge inspections?
“It is in our best interest to fully maintain our infrastructure to keep the railroad running efficiently and safely,” McBeth said.
Federal law requires railroad companies inspect their own railway bridges twice a year. The only railway bridges in Western Springs are over Interstate 294, south of the oasis, and a pedestrian underpass.
Although McBeth couldn’t provide the date and findings of the most recent inspection, she said the bridge over the Tri-State was found structurally sound.
Pioneer Press and The Doings have sent Freedom of Information Act requests to several agencies that deal with railroads asking for information, such as inspection reports, about rail bridges.
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. Pioneer Press asked for information on rail bridges in more than 50 communities that are in the newspapers’ coverage area. 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.
Railroads are responsible for maintaining their own rail bridges, which federal law requires be inspected twice a year. And they don’t have to routinely provide the Federal Railroad Administration with the results of inspections they conduct.
Federal Railroad Administration spokesman Michael England said companies have a vested interest in maintaining the bridges. The administration’s website states it be counterproductive to require railroads to do so.
U.S. Rep. Daniel Lipinski, D-3rd, from Western Springs, said the inspection situation warrants further study.
“It would be great on one hand if we had the federal government inspecting bridges, but that would cost more money over the miles of railroad lines,” Lipinski said. “The railroads certainly have an incentive to keep bridges in good condition. It would be good to look at is this something the federal government should look at.”
Western Springs Fire Chief Patrick Kenny said the village prepares for a variety of emergencies, including train derailments or a bridge collapse, through the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System. The cooperative program of area fire departments assigns a menu of choices for disaster responses, which avoids duplicating personnel and equipment, Kenny said.
Hinsdale firefighters likely would be the first responders if the bridge over Interstate 294 collapsed, because they respond to emergencies on the tollway and the Oasis.
“The first responding crew would take command and then call for those additional resources. A disaster of that magnitude becomes a team effort and all the lines and boundaries disintegrate,” Kenny said.
But a key player in emergency preparation is Adventist Hinsdale and La Grange Memorial hospitals.
“I work with all the police and fire departments of Hinsdale, La Grange, Western Springs and Bolingbrook,” said Sue Smith, regional coordinator of emergency management for the Adventist Midwest Health. “We meet at a minimum every quarter to talk about stuff that could happen.”
When the hospital will be involved with a large-scale emergency, it’s notified by the incident commander at the scene, Smith said.
If a commuter train derailed with numerous victims, hospital officials would broadcast a code in the hospital that tells all employees to stay put.
“I could call La Grange (Memorial Hospital) to see what they might have, as far as nurses, security, equipment,” Smith said. “I’m lucky I have four hospitals I can pull from.”
If a train accident involved hazardous materials, “we might lock the hospital down to keep all the patients inside,” Smith said. Access would be allowed through only one entrance to better control the situation.