Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Little Illinois Village Takes on Big Railroad

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Little Illinois Village Takes on Big Railroad

Article excerpt

BELLE RIVE, Ill. * This tiny town is home to three churches, a post office, a handful of businesses, including a feed store, and about 360 people.

And it's embarking on a David-versus-Goliath battle against Canada's largest railway, which reported $12.6 billion in revenue last year, over an agreement made more than 90 years ago.

The village last week filed a lawsuit in Jefferson County Circuit Court against the Illinois Central Railroad Co., a subsidiary of the Montreal-based Canadian National Railway.

In 1925, the village and what was then the Southern Illinois and Kentucky Railroad Co. signed a contract that in exchange for land to build its tracks, the railroad would build three bridges above the line connecting Fifth, Tenth and 13th streets.

The contract also said the railroad would "thereafter maintain such bridges and such portions of the approaches as lie within its right of way line," and that the expense of all the work outlined in the contract would be borne by the railroad.

So tracks were laid, slicing through a deep gorge in the center of the village and splitting it from east to west. And the railroad built the three timber bridges above it.

But today, none are open. The Tenth Street bridge burned long ago, and the other two have deteriorated to the point that they've been closed for years, said Village President Kim McCormick.

The bridges are rotting and overrun with weeds.

Those wishing to cross from one side of the village to the other must drive out to Illinois Route 142, which is used by drivers headed to the nearby Interstate 64, then come back. It's about an extra mile for most trips.

Negotiations for new bridges have been happening on and off for about 20 years, she said.

Once, a tentative agreement was hashed out that the railroad would replace the Fifth and 13th street bridges, which are on opposite sides of town, McCormick said. She was hopeful that would come to fruition. It fell apart.

"The railroad thinks they're so big they can ignore us. We're tired of waiting," she said of why the village where many residents are farmers, coal miners and commute to jobs in nearby Mount Vernon decided now to sue. …

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