Daily Herald Opinion: DuPage County's participation may help towns fighting impact of proposed rail merger
Eight suburban towns fighting a pending railroad merger have gained a valuable ally: DuPage County.
The DuPage County Board voted last week to join the communities in opposing the merger of the Canadian Pacific and the Kansas City Southern railways. It's a boost for the towns that now have a significant partner to help them lobby their case.
Last year, Canadian Pacific announced plans to acquire the Kansas City Southern rail line. However, the $31 billion deal needs the approval of the federal Surface Transportation Board. The merger, if approved, would create the only single-line rail network connecting Canada, the United States and Mexico.
However, leaders in Bartlett, Bensenville, Elgin, Itasca, Hanover Park, Roselle, Wood Dale and Schaumburg say the merger would dramatically increase freight train traffic in their communities. So the towns formed the "Coalition to Stop CPKC." The group has filed an objection with federal regulators, arguing the merger would create safety issues at grade crossings, delay emergency vehicles and school buses and create more noise.
But in a guest column last week, Canadian Pacific spokesman Andy Cummings counters that the merger will provide economic, environmental and public benefits to the Chicago area.
Canadian Pacific currently operates an average of about three freight trains per day on a route that also supports Metra's Milwaukee District West commuter service. Cummings said in his column that the proposed changes "do not represent a radical shift" in the historic use of the corridor.
"Through most communities, the freight trains will operate nonstop at normal track speeds, passing through nearly all road crossings in about 3 minutes or less," Cummings wrote.
Still, DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin says he has concerns about the merger.
"It would impact at least 150,000 DuPage County residents by more than tripling the number of freight trains coming through communities on the north side and northeast parts of the county," Cronin said.
DuPage is willing to spend up to $100,000 to support the coalition's efforts. The county also has a lobbyist in Washington, D.C.
"I don't have a whole lot of hope that the coalition is going to be able to prevent the merger. But I think that speaking in a unified voice might be able to get concessions about operations," county board member Mary Ozog said.
Ozog is right.
Trying to block a massive merger is an uphill battle. But the Surface Transportation Board could impose mitigation requirements as a condition of its approval. Meanwhile, Cummings said Canadian Pacific is willing to listen to concerns and talk with community leaders about reasonable solutions.
Having a county government on their side should help the towns get concessions down the road.