Trains move too slow through Illinois village, delay first responders

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CLINTON COUNTY, Ill. – Authorities fear slow-moving trains may lead to a life-or-death situation about 40 miles east of St. Louis in Clinton County, Illinois. FOX 2 is looking into a close call in the town of Albers, IL, just last week.

First responders, police, fire, and EMS are all based on one side of the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks that run through the town of about 1,500 residents. A portion of those residents live on the other side. Vehicle traffic from Interstate 64 and the neighboring town of Damiansville also comes from across the tracks.

Albers Mayor Steve Schomaker and Police Chief Brian Vielweber said that trains now take 15, 20, even 25 minutes to pass through town. First responders have to wait for them like everyone else, with potentially tragic consequences.

Such a situation arose last Thursday afternoon, with first responders waiting on one side of the tracks and a crash victim waiting on the other after an Ameren bucket truck overturned.

Luckily, there were no serious injuries. The police chief said relying on luck is not a good idea.

“Picture somebody who’s having a heart condition or a stroke and the ambulance is sitting on the other side of the tracks and there’s nothing we can do,” Vielweber said.

“Waiting on a train,” the mayor said.

They said the problems arose after a train derailment just outside of town about 16 months ago. A section of track near the derailment dips. Mine subsidence is the suspected cause.

Coal was mined from underneath Albers for decades from Exxon’s Monterey Coal Mine No. 2 for decades, the mayor and chief said.

After the derailment, trains began to slow down until all train cars pass that dip outside of town, causing extensive delays in town with longer trains, even though a federal investigation concluded the make-up of the train’s load as it rounded a curve caused the derailment, not mine subsidence.

“They were through that crossing in no more than 3,4,5 minutes depending on the length of the train (before the derailment),” the chief said. “Now it’s up to 20-25 minutes.”

“We just want our town to get back to a normal way of life,” Schomaker said. “This has been going on forever. Somebody’s got to sit down and figure out a way to fix this.”

He’s been meeting with attorneys and representatives of Exxon and Norfolk Southern, along with Congressman Mike Bost. There have been no results so far.

Exxon and Norfolk Southern had yet to respond to FOX 2 as of Tuesday night.

A spokeswoman for the Illinois Commerce Commission said, “The ICC has been in conversations with stakeholders to reach a solution; however, our authority is limited in the situation. The ICC’s main involvement in the future would be to help the village and railroad review if a bridge (over the crossing) is feasible…”

Congressman Bost told FOX 2, “My office has been in contact with Albers officials since October regarding this issue. We’ve connected with the Department of Transportation about options available to best ensure the safety of the community. We’ll continue to work with officials and residents to address their concerns.”

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