'What if that happens in my town?' Mayors urge feds to slow merger after Ohio rail disaster

With a decision on a controversial railroad merger coming soon, suburban mayors and lawmakers on Monday exhorted federal regulators to postpone any decisions given a recent catastrophic derailment in Ohio.

"It's a nightmare for me, and I think every mayor thinks the same thing: 'What happens if that happens in my town?'" Elgin Mayor Dave Kaptain said at a press briefing in Itasca organized by the Coalition to Stop CPKC.

The Canadian Pacific Railway is seeking the U.S. Surface Transportation Board's approval of its acquisition of the Kansas City Southern Railway.

Coalition members who are fighting the plan warn of delays for first responders, as well as traffic, air pollution and hazardous materials spills.

Officials cited the derailment of 38 Norfolk Southern freight cars Feb. 3 in East Palestine, Ohio, that led to vinyl chloride being released into the environment and has raised serious health fears for residents.

State Rep. Maura Hirschauer of Batavia referenced a plume of toxic gas going across residential neighborhoods in Ohio and noted that thousands of suburbanites live along the CP tracks. "A derailment like we saw in Ohio would be catastrophic."

Bensenville Village President Frank DeSimone echoed those concerns, adding there are "houses in Bensenville that are right next to the train tracks. We cannot have that. We will not have that."

CP spokesman Andy Cummings said Monday that "railways, including CP, are legally required to transport hazardous materials as part of their common carrier obligations."

The railroad strives to "make the transportation of hazardous materials and other goods as safe as possible," Cummings said, adding that CP works to meet or exceed regulations and industry standards, invests in infrastructure and works with customers to improve tank car safety.

"CP has led the industry with the lowest train accident frequency rate in North America for 17 straight years, illustrating the effectiveness of our efforts to enhance public safety and protect the environment," he said.

The STB staff gave a green light to the merger in January; now it's up to the board to rule on a plan that would create a railroad stretching from Canada to Mexico.

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

Opponents anticipate up to 18 total freights.

"Rather than consider real-time data we produced and hours of testimony (before the STB) by many first responders, the STB discarded our data and accepted CP's assertions at face value," Itasca Mayor Jeff Pruyn said.

An official with the STB said board members were aware of all filings and would take them seriously as they come to a decision.

DuPage Railroad Safety Council Chairman Lanny Wilson, whose daughter Lauren died at a railway crossing in Hinsdale in 1994, said his organization opposed the merger progressing at this time.

CP's proposal appears to lack any safety improvements such as grade separations or four-quadrant gates that prevent cars vehicles weaving around, Wilson said.

"Let's be in the business of preventing tragedies, not the business of crisis intervention and cleanup after the preventable crashes and derailments have occurred," he said.

The coalition on Monday filed two new complaints regarding the merger with the STB on Monday.

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A CP train travels through Des Plaines. Daily Herald File Photo
  Elgin Mayor Dave Kaptain opposes a railway merger with CP and KCS as do other mayors and lawmakers at a Monday briefing in Itasca. Marni Pyke/
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