CN gets mixed results on first report card

The Canadian National Railway has made a good start communicating with towns along the EJ&E railroad, but there's room for improvement, a federal audit concludes.

And, it says, municipalities that have not yet struck deals with CN are critical of how it's handling the transition.

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board hired consultants HDR Engineering to survey towns to see if CN was living up to conditions regulators imposed on the railroad when they approved its purchase of the smaller EJ&E in 2008.

The merger will ease freight congestion in Chicago by moving trains from CN's crowded tracks to the underused EJ&E, Canadian National argued and the STB agreed. The decision angered towns along the EJ&E that feared extra trains would lead to more noise, safety problems, traffic and environmental issues.

The consultants' report released this week states "CN has initiated extensive communication with the affected communities" that in most instances "has been consistent with the board's conditions."

CN has signed mitigation agreements with 21 towns along the EJ&E in which it funds fixes for noise and safety concerns. Thirteen towns are holding out and of those, seven responded to the survey.

On the question of train delays, a majority of the seven towns said CN had not notified their police or fire dispatchers when crossings were blocked by a train for more than 10 minutes.

With the exception of Deer Park, most municipalities also said CN had not given them an emergency response plan.

But a majority noted CN had provided their emergency dispatching departments with a monitor to see real-time train locations.

HDR noted CN needs to follow through on giving towns copies of emergency response plans, providing more information on how it's working with municipalities regarding quiet zones and notifying authorities about train blockages.

This is the first of several reports on CN's performance.