Freight railroad merger draws fiery comments on Day 1 of federal hearing
Supporters and opponents of a merger between the Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern freight railroads laid out vastly diverging scenarios at a federal hearing Wednesday if the union is approved.
U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi warned of excessive delays on Metra's Milwaukee District West Line from additional CP trains that could undo ridership gains from COVID-19 lows.
"If the current merger proceeds as proposed, Metra ridership and its finances will be devastated," the Schaumburg Democrat told members of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board in Washington, D.C.
The merger would create a massive rail system stretching from Canada to Mexico if allowed.
Although CP expects its acquisition of KCS would increase freight traffic from three daily trains on its tracks to 11 on average, it could be closer to 18, Krishnamoorthi cautioned.
Not so, countered CP President Keith Creel. "There will be no adverse impact on commuter service," Creel said, adding that Amtrak supports the plan.
"This combination will create an unparalleled single network connecting three nations and inject competition into the railroad industry where every customer will have more options," Creel said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
But Metra CEO Jim Derwinski said that in addition to delays on the Milwaukee District North and West Lines, the merger posed safety risks.
"Over our 40-year history with CP we have seen numerous issues with the way CP operates its trains and dispatches on our lines," Derwinski said. The railroad has submitted documents to the Surface Transportation Board to show "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," he noted.
CP officials have previously called Metra's data flawed and said they have a strong safety record.
Bartlett, Bensenville, Elgin, Itasca, Hanover Park, Roselle, Wood Dale, Schaumburg and DuPage County have formed the Coalition to Stop CPKC to fight the acquisition and contend it will delay first responders, snarl traffic and increase risks of crashes and hazardous materials spills.
Creel noted the railroad has reached out to communities and has mitigation agreements with towns such as Pingree Grove and Hampshire.
He said some communities are "asking for the moon in hopes the board will give them more."
But DuPage County Engineer Christopher Snyder testified that extra trains blocking crossings would cause a cumulative increase in delays of up to 36 hours a day.
Wood Dale Fire Chief James Burke told the board, "our concern is for the survivability of that citizen who stops breathing and collapses because the ambulance is delayed by a freight train. Fire doubles in size every minute -- our concern is for a family whose house is on fire and the closest fire equipment is delayed by a freight train."
Hanover Park Mayor Rodney Craig said the rail lines play a pivotal role in getting residents to jobs and back home to their families and in spurring economic development near train stations.
"If this merger disrupts our commuter traffic, that will be the slow economic death of our communities," Craig said.
Wednesday marked the start of a three-day hearing by the board whose chairman is Martin Oberman, an attorney and former Metra board chairman.
Oberman pressed CP officials on how many freight trains would run on the tracks ultimately -- 12 or 18?
"If you live in this area -- you want to know what will happen in the long-term," he said. Oberman added the board may consider putting train quantities as a condition in a potential approval.
To watch, go to the Surface Transportation Board's YouTube channel at youtube.com/watch?v=CbmzhM3S0Bc.
Surface Transportation Board analysts issued a draft environmental impact statement in August that concluded the combined railroads would have a "negligible" effect overall.
This winter, the Surface Transportation Board staff will finalize the environmental impact statement and the board will ultimately vote on it.