Citing concerns over bickering between the Canadian National Railway and Illinois Department of Transportation, federal regulators gave both an extra two years to start building overpasses in Aurora and Lynwood.
And if the two sides can't resolve project disputes on their own, the U.S. Surface Transportation Board urged CN and IDOT to find someone who can.
Although the two entities appear to be negotiating in good faith, "difficult issues related to these two important projects remain unresolved," stated a Thursday STB ruling extending construction to Dec. 31, 2017.
"Should the parties ultimately find themselves at an impasse on certain issues after good faith efforts, we urge them to seek initial resolution through third-party mediation, arbitration, or other form of alternative dispute resolution."
In 2008, the STB approved CN's request to buy the smaller EJ&E Railroad, which extended in a half-circle from Lake County to Will County. Suburbs traversed by the EJ&E fought the plan, citing extra freight train traffic. The board imposed numerous conditions on CN as a result -- including that the railroad pay about two-thirds of the costs of the two grade separations, estimated at $68 million.
The board required construction start by 2015. But in March, IDOT engineers appealed to the government to extend the deadline, complaining about CN's "intransigence" and desire to "minimize, as much as possible, its contribution toward the cost of constructing the overpasses."
For example, CN is resisting paying for bike and pedestrian features on the overpasses, IDOT officials complained.
Railroad officials fought back, telling regulators "the board should not be misled by IDOT's mischaracterization of dealings between it and CN."
On the contrary, CN "has been working conscientiously with IDOT ... doing all it is obliged to do, and more, to put IDOT in a position to begin construction of the grade separations by the end of 2015," CN executives told the STB.
Sen. Dick Durbin, who opposed the merger, praised the ruling, noting that the original STB decision would have let CN avoid contributing to the grade separations if a construction contract wasn't in place by 2015.