What it takes to paint a railroad bridge

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

We moved to Forest Park in 1982. Except for a few structures, we were pleased with the village's appearance. There was one blot on the landscape I couldn't ignore, though, the rusty-green railroad bridge that crosses Desplaines Avenue. I thought it badly needed a paint job.

According to plaques attached to the bridge, it was built in 1959, a joint project of the state of Illinois, Cook County and the federal government. It was originally owned by the Baltimore & Ohio RR and bore that railroad's logo. The steel portion of this span appears to be about 50 feet long and 25 feet wide.

Just south of this bridge is a CTA bridge, which was also built in 1959. However, it has been repainted, so it's not a rust-streaked eyesore. I approached Mayor Hoskins about repainting the railroad bridge. He was open to the idea and appointed me to head a committee to tackle this project.

I first had to find out which railroad owned the bridge. Originally, this right-of-way was owned by the Soo Line. A hundred years ago, the Soo Line provided passenger service from Forest Park to Wisconsin. In 1990, the Canadian Pacific RR acquired the Soo Line. I called the Canadian Pacific and they told me their phone number for maintenance was posted at the Madison Street grade crossing.

Sure enough, I found the number at the crossing and called maintenance. They answered right away because it could have been an emergency. I learned that the Canadian Pacific owns the right-of-way until it crosses Madison Street. The right–of-way south of Madison, including the bridge, is owned by CSX RR.

I called CSX Public Projects Manager Amanda Decesare, who is based in Cincinnati. She sent me their manual with guidelines for "Painting and Cleaning CSXT Bridges to Improve Appearance." It states that the railroad understands the desire of communities to improve the appearance of bridges. The manual states that the railroad will incur no costs or liabilities for re-painting a bridge.

The guidelines state that a written proposal for the project was required, including a conceptual drawing and work site safety plan. The project is too dangerous and difficult for volunteers and a state-qualified painting contractor must be retained. It specified that the materials removed cannot impact the local environment and must be disposed of properly. Though this section of track has sparse traffic, the project would require a railroad flagman, at the expense of the painting contractor.

I just spoke with a painting contractor who does this kind of work. His estimate is based on square footage. Their bid will include all the expenses, including the railroad flagman. I'm meeting with the contractor on Sept. 27 to survey the bridge and get an estimate.

Mayor Hoskins believed I should share the workload with a committee. The first person I invited to join the committee declined. She declared that the railroad should pay for the cost of the project. That's not going to happen. A group of Oak Park citizens tried to persuade the Union Pacific RR to repair their crumbling concrete embankment. They said they'd rather take their chances with a lawsuit for falling concrete than fix it. So I'm surprised the CSX will even permit us to have the bridge painted.

If anyone would like to join the committee to advance this project, they can email me at jrice1038@aol.com. We can use people with knowledge of engineering and artistic types with a sense of the aesthetics. Who knows? If we can repaint this monstrosity, the water tower could be next.

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