DECATUR, Ill — SMART Transportation Division Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy was on hand March 30 as state Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a $200 million investment in about two dozen state projects to improve the flow of freight on rail and road.

Among the 22 projects and most important to TD membership is $10 million to complete funding for a $75 million grade-crossing improvement in the city of Decatur to eliminate a chronically blocked crossing near the Midwest Inland Port.

The creation of the overpass at Faries Parkway and the Norfolk Southern will separate the Norfolk Southern tracks from regular vehicle traffic, eliminating a notorious bottleneck that has been blocked by trains for as long as 17 hours at a time.

“Railroad operating employees know all too well that the overwhelming amount of fatalities and injuries in our industry occur at railroad grade crossings or are due to trespassing events,” SLD Guy said.  “It’s a train crew’s worst nightmare to strike a vehicle or pedestrian at or near a crossing. Grade separation projects like this one provide a win-win situation for workers and communities alike. Removing the opportunity for a tragedy at an at-grade crossing while also freeing up the flow of vehicular traffic, especially at a time when crossings are blocked for longer times due to increased train length, improves safety for rail workers, emergency responders and communities as a whole.”

The awards, announced jointly by Pritzker and the state Department of Transportation, are part of the state’s $33.2 billion Rebuild Illinois plan to rebuild and revitalize the state’s transportation infrastructure using state and federal funds.

Freight rail safety in the news

Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) of Illinois again has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with rail workers in the battle for national two-person crew legislation.

SMART-TD Illinois State Legislative Director Bob Guy, left, meets with Gov. J.B. Pritzker at the Illinois State Fair on Aug. 16. Pritzker issued a comment in support of the Rule of 2 on Sept. 27.

SMART Transportation Division members and the people of Illinois have even more evidence that Gov. Pritzker has their safety as his priority. The governor’s office submitted comments to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on Sept. 27 in support of legislation requiring a two-person crew be in the cab of a number of passenger and freight trains. 

“We want to extend our appreciation to Gov. Pritzker for his support for two-person train crews,” said Bob Guy, SMART-TD Illinois state legislative director. “When the governor was a candidate, he visited my office, and we discussed this important employee and public safety need. Then he followed up that commitment by signing legislation (S.B. 24) in 2019 that requires at least two individuals to operate trains in Illinois.

“Now the governor has furthered that commitment by issuing a letter of support for FRA’s current Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for crew size safety requirements. Gov. Pritzker and the Illinois General Assembly have made it clear that they support public safety by requiring a two-person crew on trains, and we thank them for that.”

In his submission to the FRA, Gov. Pritzker stated that “adequate railroad operating personnel is critical to ensuring railroad operational safety and security and in supporting first responder activities in the event of a hazardous material incident, grade crossing incident, or mechanical failure.”

The support from Gov. Pritzker is appreciated by the labor community, yet does not come as a surprise. His track record of respect for this issue is clear —  in 2019, he signed S.B. 24 into law, mandating two-person crews for freight trains operating within the borders of Illinois, even when then-FRA Administrator Ron Batory was attempting to quash states’ efforts to regulate train crew size.