Nicor: Thousands won't have heat if CN bars pipeline fix at derailment site

On the heels of CN blaming Nicor for causing a train derailment in Plainfield, the utility warns the railroad's refusal to let it install a pipeline at the same location will leave thousands of suburban residents without heat this winter.

Nicor is replacing a natural gas pipeline serving about 250,000 customers in suburban Cook and DuPage counties that crosses the CN tracks where a freight train derailed June 30 and spilled more than 30,000 gallons of crude oil. The pipeline is out of service and should have been completed by mid-September, but the railroad won't give Nicor access, the utility said Thursday.

Nicor is suing CN in Cook County court. "It is imperative that Nicor Gas be allowed to install the replacement pipe or temporarily reconnect and safety test the existing pipeline by Oct. 15 in order to meet the natural gas needs ... of customers who rely on natural gas during the winter heating season," Nicor said in a statement.

CN spokesman Patrick Waldron said the railroad thinks the dispute can be resolved.

But he noted that an investigation by CN and third-party engineering firms found the derailment occurred because of the "faulty installation of a Nicor natural gas pipe below the track."

Nicor says the derailment is still being investigated by the federal government and, if it's at fault, the utility will deal with "any issues of financial liability at the appropriate time."

The train carrying crude oil was traveling at 40 mph when the soil below the tracks gave way, likely because of boring operations and piping installation for Nicor, a report to the Federal Railroad Administration by CN states.

Waldron said that "CN recognizes that Nicor provides important services to residents and businesses of Northern Illinois, but just like railways, utility companies must discharge that responsibility safely.

"We remain committed to working with Nicor and its contractors to fully address our public safety concerns."

Five train cars leaked about 30,045 gallons of crude oil, shutting down traffic temporarily in south Plainfield and alarming residents living nearby.

Municipalities that could be affected by the dispute include Addison, Bensenville Des Plaines, Elk Grove Village, Elmhurst, Glen Ellyn, Glendale Heights, Itasca, Lombard, Medinah, Oak Brook, Oakbrook Terrace, Roselle, Rosemont, Schaumburg, Villa Park, and Wood Dale.

"Nicor presented CN with alternate plans to replace the pipeline without any further excavation under the railroad, or to temporarily reconnect the existing pipeline, which has been operated safely for 40 years, and safety test to get through the winter, but CN has not allowed either option," Nicor officials said.

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