Federal report predicts 'negligible ... temporary' impact of rail merger

  • Cars wait for a northbound Canadian Pacific train to clear a crossing in Des Plaines.

    Cars wait for a northbound Canadian Pacific train to clear a crossing in Des Plaines. Daily Herald File Photo

 
 
Updated 8/5/2022 6:15 PM

A preliminary federal report released Friday contends the potential harm of a merger between Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern railways, opposed by multiple suburbs, would be minimal.

In a draft environmental impact statement, U.S. Surface Transportation Board analysts said, "apart from train noise, which could result in adverse impacts at some locations, the potential adverse impacts of the proposed acquisition would be negligible, minor, and/or temporary."

 

It's a significant finding, but it doesn't mean STB members will approve the proposal.

The agency is taking comments on the draft environmental impact statement now through Sept. 26. Board members also will hold a three-day public hearing in Washington on the merger's merits in late September.

"The report isn't likely going to satisfy affected communities, considering that the full ramifications of the merger are so hard to predict," DePaul University transportation Professor Joseph Schwieterman said. "Even CP may not yet know how the train traffic will change on all of its routes."

If CP acquires the KCS, it would create a massive system stretching 20,350 miles between Canada and Mexico.

It's estimated towns along the tracks in the Chicago region will experience an average of eight more freight trains a day. That's raised concerns about traffic delays, safety and environmental consequences in suburbs including Bartlett, Bensenville, Elgin, Itasca, Hanover Park, Roselle, Wood Dale and Schaumburg, which formed a coalition to fight the plan.

"Eight suburban communities and DuPage County remain vehemently opposed to the merger as proposed due to the irreversible adverse impacts on villages and cities along the Metra Milwaukee District West Line," members of the Coalition to Stop CPKC said in a statement.

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But the move would take trucks off the road, increase competition and create jobs, CP contends.

"This is a transformative opportunity for CP, for KCS, and for the North American economy," Canadian Pacific President Keith Creel has said.

Both sides still were digesting the voluminous study Friday afternoon.

"We are reviewing the Surface Transportation Board's draft environmental impact statement," CP officials said. "We remain committed to continuing our work with communities as we advance through this process."

Coalition members also said they were reviewing the study and would provide a detailed response by the deadline.

The 357-page report plus appendixes are nuanced.

STB analysts predicted more trains would increase the risk of an accident such as a derailment but expect that "incidents would be minor and would not result in any injuries or fatalities."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In acknowledging the noise impact of additional freights, they recommended additional mitigations other than those proposed by CP, such as maintaining railway track beds, lubricating curves, and to "promptly respond to community inquiries concerning the establishment of Quiet Zones."

Schwieterman thinks "the analysis shows that the worst-case scenarios some opponents are pointing to, such as dramatic increases in milelong freight trains running at all hours of the day and night, aren't likely credible."

But a "limitation of the analysis is that it doesn't look at all the contingencies, such as how even a few extra trains at rush hour could affect Amtrak and Metra."

A public meeting on the draft study is set for Sept. 12 in Itasca.

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