by Bill Monson

For one-million dollars, how many trains go through Galesburg on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe on an average day?

(A) 35, (B) 55, (C) 95, (D) too darned many.

Is that your final answer?

According to BNSF Terminal Superintendent John Gooding, the answer is (C) 95.

Most of you probably made your estimate based upon your experience with trains through hearing them honk or by being trapped at one of Galesburg's grade crossings.

Gooding says about sixty trains a day rumble in or out of the Galesburg terminal of the old Burlington Northern, though not all these block major street crossings.

The East Main Street crossing, for example, has about 30 a day or a little better than one an hour. These seem longer because the trains tend to move more slowly as they have to cross switches from the yard to the Sante Fe overpass on Lincoln Street.

That old Santa Fe main line has no such problem, and its trains keep a good pace through town. There are, however, 35 of them a day. Thus, the West Main crossing has more delays of shorter duration.

What nearby residents will tell you is that the old Santa Fe line is noisier. A train headed west starts honking for grade crossings at Phillips Street and continues for Lincoln, Pearl, Chambers, Seminary, Kellogg, Prairie, Cherry, Broad, West, Academy, Main, South Henderson, all the way to Linwood.

The traditional horn or whistle signal for crossings is two longs, a short, and a long -- but the crossings come so close together on the Santa Fe that most engineers just keep honking all the way through town.

At an average of two honks per train for the 14 crossings between Phillips and Linwood, that's 980 honks every day 365 days a year. (366 this year!) No wonder the neighbors call the line noisy!

By contrast, the old Burlington Northern has far fewer crossings for its 60 trains. There are only three north of the yards on the Chicago line -- Mulberry, Main and Pearl. The Quad City spur adds Fremont to these three. Southwest, there are crossings at Cedar, Academy and South Henderson. The Peoria line has crossings at South Seminary, Chambers, First/Pearl, Day, Pine, Lombard, Locust and Farnham -- but it has very few trains.

All these crossings also mean warning bells, flashing lights, and gates which go up and down day and night year after year. Maintenance crews regularly inspect them all, and its remarkable how few problems there are with the new automated, computerized systems. It's a far cry from the past when every crossing needed a guard or was protected only by the big X warning sign.

Today, most car-train collisions are the fault of reckless motorists who drive through flashing lights or around lowered gates. They risk everything just to gain the few minutes it takes a typical train to pass.

However, most of us can share experiences of longer delays. While walking home Thursday night, March 23, around 7:30, I was stuck at the East Main crossing by two freights of over 100 cars each. Being on foot, I couldn't just nip down to North Street for the underpass -- so I had to lean against the Sumner Street signpost for nearly 30 minutes as the pair slowly rumbled by.

Fortunately, such long delays are infrequent, and Galesburg crossing accidents have also become rare events thanks to wiser drivers and the constant efforts of BNSF crews to maintain our safety.

Think about it -- isn't all that rail-borne commerce worth the honks and an occasional wait?

For Galesburg, Rail City, the answer is ''definitely!''

Bill Monson is an author and critic who's been in love with trains since his childhood in Galesburg. His observations appear occasionally on these pages.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online May 16, 2000

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