CEO: Canadian National Railroad not 'problem child'

  • Canadian National Railway CEO Claude Mongeau, 52, says he stands behind CN's record.

      Canadian National Railway CEO Claude Mongeau, 52, says he stands behind CN's record. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Updated 1/28/2015 12:55 PM

To correct a story in a Jan. 15 article, there were 986 blocked railway crossings lasting 10 minutes or more on the EJ&E in October 2009.

By Marni Pyke

Saying he's "disappointed" by two more years of federal scrutiny, Canadian National Railroad CEO Claude Mongeau defended the agency's record following a controversial purchase of the smaller EJ&E Railroad.

"Are we dealing with a good corporate citizen or are we dealing with a problem child?" Mongeau said in an interview with the Daily Herald Wednesday. CN "did it the right way. We did not spare any effort to be a very responsible party."

In December 2008, the Surface Transportation Board approved CN's request to buy the smaller EJ&E, which extended in a half-circle from Waukegan to Joliet. Suburbs traversed by the EJ&E fought the plan, citing extra freight train traffic. The board agreed with CN that the purchase would reduce regional freight congestion but imposed numerous conditions on the railroad as a result and included a period of federal oversight until Jan. 23, 2015.

Last month, the STB extended the monitoring period until Jan. 23, 2017, citing concerns about additional freight traffic in the region.

Mongeau said the railroad's acquisition of the EJ&E "gave CN what it was looking for": a route around Chicago that has a trickle-down effect on other railroads by taking its trains off other crowded tracks.

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The railroad has spent $700 million on upgrades and safety improvements since 2008.

Twenty-eight out of 33 towns affected by the merger signed mitigation deals with CN, Mongeau noted. Holdouts included Aurora and Barrington, which fought the merger and campaigned to extend the monitoring period.

In October 2014, there were 1,620 blocked railway crossings lasting 10 minutes or more on the EJ&E. In October 2009, early in the acquisition phase, there were just 986, according to CN data.

Of those October delays, more than 100 occurred in Aurora.

There were 11 in Barrington, including a pre-dawn train stopped for 44 minutes.

On tracks between Lake Zurich, Barrington and Hanover Park, traffic on the EJ&E grew from about five daily trains before the merger to 17 in October 2014.

"We are doing everything we can to minimize the impact. We manage it with more intensity and scrutiny than anywhere else," Mongeau said. "This is a medium-sized traffic level."


On CN tracks, where the railroad forecast less traffic, trains dropped from 19 in October to four between Rosemont and Vernon Hills.

"We have exactly the amount of traffic that we had projected," Mongeau said.

One reason for the extra federal oversight came from an escalation in train traffic in the region, including trains carrying crude oil from Canada.

Barrington Mayor Karen Darch said the village is asking the transportation board to require CN to contribute to a $47 million shortfall to build an overpass separating Route 14 from the tracks. The village is worried about the spike in oil trains and its impact on traffic and safety.

"We're seeing longer trains," Darch said. "We think there is more unexpected and unanticipated traffic that has come to be since the application was approved."

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