A BNSF TRAIN speeds through the crossing on South Broadway next to the Coal City Police Station. The train took more than two minutes to make it all the way through the crossing.
by Brent Sumner Staff writer
With a proposal for the construction of the Illiana Belt Railroad fresh in the minds of many locals, it's natural to think about how it would be to live by railroad tracks, with the rumble of passing engines and the rhythmic clackety clack of steel wheels rolling down the track.
People in Coal City have always been faced with the challenge, noise and dangers of life bissected by railroad tracks. However, they not only live with the situation, they create ways to accept it, to entertain themselves counting the number of freight cars, videotaping trains going by, admiring the graffiti and even setting up audio feeds online.
The website railstream.biz gives users the opportunity to listen to trains going through Coal City. Also, on the village's pump house south of the police station, they have a camera that video records every train that goes by on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad tracks through town. They use this camera to keep stats on railway activity. Since they started to collect data on April 29, through June 14, the camera recorded the passage of 2,221 trains - that averages out to about 60 trains on any given day.
Shannon and Ben Bear, as well as Scott and Nicole Patterson, have lived by the tracks for years. Shannon had her first apartment on Division Street by the crossing for nine years, and now lives in a house by the Carbon Hill Road crossing.
"I've seen a couple of instances with the railroad tracks," said Shannon. "A gentleman lived behind me, and I saw that man commit suicide on the tracks. I have seen vehicles get rear ended near the tracks, and I used to work as a teacher's aid, and I heard of a boy trying to beat the train on a bike, and the train clipped his back tire. Luckily he was fine."
Scott Patterson has lived by tracks since he was 5 and never lived more than a block away, but his wife took a little time to adapt and get used to the trains. "When we first moved in, the bed rattled from trains. It took some time to get adjusted," said Scott. "In 2009 we re-insulated the house and it got quieter. For myself, it has never been difficult since I have been so close, and been a part of Coal City for a long time."
Both families agreed that having their children grow up by the tracks has groomed them into being very sound sleepers.
"Kids growing up by tracks can sleep through anything," said Scott Patterson.
"Both of my boys like having the tracks nearby," said Shannon Bear. "They both need white noise to sleep, and they are very sound sleepers. My oldest son (11) even sleeps with his window cracked."
Just like all children when they are growing up, the Patterson and Bear families have found that the boys do get curious every once in a while, and also need to be educated on the dangers of the railway.
"We've always been a little overprotective of Connor (8) and Hunter (6)," said Scott. "We never let them outside by themselves, and they have given us a heightened awareness. Now that they are a little older, we have a little more leeway with them, but they still aren't allowed by the tracks."
Scott added that being outside takes a lot of adjustment. The trains are so loud that he finds them kind of nerve-racking when he is working in the yard.
Shannon said that when they are outside the trains are so loud that her 3-year-old covers his ears.
"We tell our kids (11 and 3) consistently to not go by the tracks, and we have talked of putting a fence in," said Shannon. "It has always been kind of a non-issue though."
Shannon has had that thought in the back of her mind of a derailment, or something bad happening on the line, but she has always found a way to make the trains entertaining.
"My 3-year-old loves trains, and even has his bedroom all decorated with trains," said Shannon. "Our favorite thing to do is look at all of the graffiti on the cars, we call it our own rolling artwork."
Scott also said that despite how big of a nuisance the trains are, they have become a part of their lives.
"I have learned not to leave the house between 3:30 and 5:30 because of the tracks," said Scott. "I have also gotten so used to the noise that if it is quiet, it is almost abnormal."