'The plan is just not viable as of right now': Lawmakers wary of controversial railroad merger

Federal lawmakers have stayed on the sidelines regarding the regional impact of a white-hot proposal to combine two major freight railroads, but that's changing.

"The plan is just not viable as of right now," U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi said of the Canadian Pacific Railway's plan to merge with the Kansas City Southern railroad.

If approved, daily CP traffic would grow from three to 11 trains on average in suburbs he represents. In addition to higher volume, the Schaumburg Democrat is concerned trains up to 12,000 feet long would "block every intersection in a town simultaneously."

"(The railroads) have got to significantly do a rethink on this, because it'll just be explosive if they don't," Krishnamoorthi told the Daily Herald last week.

He's engaging with other lawmakers on the issue and plans to file an objection soon.

Dick Durbin, Illinois' senior senator, is also dubious.

"Sen. Durbin's office has had conversations with leaders from impacted communities and has raised concerns with both the railroad and the U.S. Surface Transportation Board," a spokesman said.

An environmental-impact statement on the merger could be released this summer. The STB will rule on the plan ultimately.

In a previous statement, CP Chief Keith Creel called the transaction a "once-in-a-lifetime partnership to create the first U.S.-Mexico-Canada rail network. This is a transformative opportunity for CP, for KCS, and for the North American economy."

Metra, however, thinks it will be a disaster for on-time performance. The commuter railroad informed the STB that more freight trains "will serve to materially degrade passenger rail service by causing an approximately estimated 1,200% increase in delays," which also caught Krishnamoorthi's attention.

Rider safety is another concern because CP "dispatching decisions too often require passengers to cross tracks unnecessarily, dodge oncoming freight trains, or circumnavigate idling freight trains at Metra stations," the agency contends.

CP counters that the railroad will prove that "Metra's method and analysis of the proposed ... train traffic is flawed and their sensational conclusions about increased delays are just plain wrong," said Patrick Waldron, the railway's assistant vice president of communications.

"CP is proud to have been the safest railroad in North America for 16 straight years," he noted.

For communities crisscrossed by CP tracks, concerns go beyond traffic delays to increased risk of pedestrian crashes, blocking emergency vehicles and hazardous-materials spills.

The Coalition to Stop CPKC, which includes Bartlett, Bensenville, Elgin, Itasca, Hanover Park, Roselle, Wood Dale and Schaumburg, estimates $9 billion is needed to reduce harm from the merger. So far CP has offered $10 million, coalition members said.

"(The rail) corridor has been carrying freight and passenger trains for more than a century," Waldron said. "The proposed changes do not represent a radical shift in its use or total traffic counts, which have fluctuated over the years."

He said CP has reached a compromise with Hampshire on mitigation and wants to work with communities. But the $9 billion "is not the position of a party interested in a serious exploration of the public interest implications of the CP-KCS combination."

The STB is an independent board, but when federal lawmakers speak, it's noticed by the agency.

In 2008, the STB voted to allow the Canadian National Railroad to acquire the smaller EJ&E Railroad. That came after months of protests by affected towns about delays and safety, and pushback from Durbin.

The board's 2008 decision was groundbreaking because it required CN to pay about $68 million toward building grade separations in Aurora and Lynwood and enforced lengthy oversight of train delays.

Now, "the state of discussions does not seem to be moving productively forward," Krishnamoorthi said, "because of the way in which the railroad is addressing the situation. They're huge entities, and their perception is regulatory authorities in Washington, D.C., are going to do their bidding. They need to rethink their assumptions."

One more thing

The USA is 246 years old on July 4, and in October, the Chicago Transit Authority will hit 75. Already the agency is celebrating by wrapping its rail cars in vintage colors and styles. Currently the time warp extends to the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. And on Oct. 1, a Diamond Jubilee Celebration is set in Chicago's Daley Plaza.

Gridlock alert

Sorry, Rolling Meadows. IDOT will be resurfacing Hicks Road between Kirchoff Road and Euclid Avenue starting Wednesday and finishing in September. Expect daytime lane closures.

Kansas City Southern delays vote on $33.6B rail takeover bid

Canadian Pacific's acquisition of KCS railroad back on track

West suburbs say rail merger will create dangerous level of freight traffic

Coalition of suburbs holds fast against railroad merger, even with $10 million offer

Raja Krishnamoorthi
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