Rail merger opposed by suburbs should go forward, analysts say

U.S. Surface Transportation Board will have the final word on plan that suburbs oppose

Federal regulators, in a final report released Friday, contend the positives of a hotly debated merger sought by the Canadian Pacific Railway and opposed by many suburbs outweigh any negatives.

Now it's up to members of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to make a decision.

The agency's Office of Environmental Analysis made some recommendations and added comments to a draft environmental impact statement issued in August regarding CP's plan to acquire the Kansas City Southern Railroad.

But overall, the regulators stuck to their original conclusion that the acquisition "would not result in major impacts to environmental resource areas, with the exception of noise, where unavoidable adverse noise impacts would occur."

DuPage County and a consortium of Bartlett, Bensenville, Elgin, Hanover Park, Itasca, Roselle, Schaumburg and Wood Dale plus suburban congressmen vehemently disagreed, predicting gridlock and environmental hazards.

Metra also warns more freight trains from the merged railroads would cause delays and safety issues on its Milwaukee District lines.

The deal would create a massive railroad stretching from Canada to Mexico, which CP says would create jobs and reduce shipping problems.

CP leaders on Friday thanked STB analysts for a "thorough review of the proposed CP-KCS combination."

"CP remains committed to working with communities as we advance through this process and looks forward to receiving the STB's decision on the CP-KCS merger application in the weeks ahead," they said.

Other officials were digesting the voluminous report.

CP estimates an average of eight trains would be added to the metro area daily of three now, for a total of 11.

Opponents anticipate up to 18 total freights that are miles-long and block crossings could run on suburban tracks.

"What will that do to ambulance runs?" Itasca Village Administrator Carie Anne Ergo asked at an STB forum in Itasca on Sept. 12. "Police rushing to service calls? Parents taking their children to school? You don't know - because nobody at the STB bothered to visit our town."

The STB responded in its final report that the average number of trains would be 11.4 under the merger and lengths would be 6,817 feet; a mile is 5,280 feet.

"Only the 10,000-foot freight trains would have the potential to block all four grade crossings in Itasca at the same time and ... this is a preexisting condition because trains of this length are already running through these communities," officials said.

At a hearing on Sept. 28 in Washington, Metra Executive Director Jim Derwinski listed concerns about how CP operates and dispatches trains on the Milwaukee District line.

He cited documents submitted to the STB showing "how passengers have run out in front of trains and worse, have gone on or under CP trains to make their Metra train due to the way CP dispatched that day."

In the report, STB analysts referenced CP's projections that the merger would not cause any change in rail traffic on the Milwaukee District North Line and said they expect the acquisition "would not result in any environmental impacts, including to passenger rail safety, along the MD-N line."

Also, "freight and passenger trains have shared tracks on this line for nearly 150 years, since it was constructed in the 1870s," the staff wrote. "The necessity for passengers to regularly cross tracks at one end of their commute or the other has existed since the inception of passenger service, based on the design of stations on the line."

The agency did recommend seeking federal funding for pedestrian overpasses or underpasses.

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