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Park Forest officials ready for Rail Fan Park grand opening

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Updated: August 27, 2013 6:11AM



As Park Forest officials prepare for July 27’s grand opening of their newest park, they are also prepared for an influx of railroad enthusiasts from around the country.

The Rail Fan Park, built by the Park Forest recreation and parks department in cooperation with Canadian National Railroad and the village of Matteson, features a great view of one of the country’s largest rail intersections, officials said.

The two-acre park — located within the village of Matteson — features a 35-foot-high platform overlooking a four-way interchange known as a Double Y intersection, in which trains can move easily in all directions, and one can cross over itself as it loops around.

When Canadian National Railway bought the east-west EJ&E rail lines, it acquired the property from Park Forest, adjacent to its Metra lot at Homan and North avenues, and reconfigured the entrance to the Metra lot to create this rail intersection.

The $30 million rail project included 2 1/2 miles of new track, a half-mile loop, 7,600 railroad ties, 19 different railroad switches and two bridges, according to CN spokesman Patrick Waldron.

“It’s been called a marvel of railroad engineering. It is unique,” he said, noting that about 10 to 15 trains per day use that loop. “We recognized the uniqueness of this spot. It has an excellent vantage point to watch the trains.”

When the interchange was completed in October 2011, CN returned two acres to Park Forest, and established the hill and slope for the platform, said Rob Gunther, the village’s recreation and parks director.

He admitted, they didn’t realize at first how unique and exciting this project was going to be.

CN also donated a retired 1953 EJ&E caboose, which graces the entrance to the park along with old railroad signals. The surrounding landscape will be planted with native prairie plants ­— similar to those that early train riders might have seen.

An asphalt path leads visitors to a handicapped-accessible ramp, which gently slopes upward to the platform, designed to hold a crowd.

Signage along the way tells the story of the caboose, the prairie, the new loop, and the importance of the rail industry in the Chicago area.

Gunther said their goal is to create a national tourist destination.

“I like to think that this will put Park Forest on the map,” he said, adding that there is potential for future daylong or weekendlong events here.

July 27’s grand opening has already generated calls from around the country, Gunther said.

“It will generate a lot of interest in Park Forest and the south suburban area,” he said. It is easily accessible by the Old Plank Road Trail bike path and the Metra Electric Line.

Many people have already stopped by to check it out, including Jim Sohan, who lives nearby. He likes to entertain his 7-year-old grandson Nathan by watching the trains together.

“We like to come here once in awhile,” he said, as they stood on the wooden platform watching an afternoon freight train come from Gary and head to Chicago.

It also has attracted the attention of a popular talk radio program for railroad enthusiasts, “Let’s Talk Trains,” which will air live from the park during the grand opening event beginning at noon.

The festivities begin at 11:30 a.m. with a ribbon-cutting and self-guided tours. For more information, visit www.villageofparkforest.com.



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