'We're being railroaded': Suburban leaders blast merger plan in front of federal regulators

Federal regulators got an earful Monday about the proposed merger of the Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern railways at a forum in Itasca.

The two railroads are among the smallest of the freight carriers, but joined they would form a massive system stretching from Canada to Mexico if the U.S. Surface Transportation Board approves the deal. Eight suburbs and DuPage County have formed the Coalition to Stop CPKC to prevent the merger.

"This line cuts right through downtown," Itasca Village Administrator Carie Anne Ergo said at the forum at the Westin Chicago Northwest hotel. "Most days, our community sees only two freight trains. If approved, we could see 14 freight trains daily.

"What will do that do to ambulance runs?" she asked. "Police rushing to service calls? Parents taking their children to school? You don't know - because nobody at the STB bothered to visit our town."

"We are communities which exist on small taxpayer-funded budgets facing two Class 1 railroads - and I can't help feeling we're being railroaded."

STB analysts issued a draft environmental impact statement in August that concluded the combined railroads would have a "negligible" effect overall.

The merger would put an average of eight more freight trains on CP tracks in the region, CP says, but U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Schaumburg noted that local authorities project it would be closer to 18.

"The draft environmental impact statement fails to reconcile these figures," he said.

Wood Dale Police Chief Greg Vesta cited cases when officers have been held back from investigating crimes because of trains in the city's downtown.

"My concern is the ability of our first responders to be able to respond to life-threatening emergencies that our residents experience on a regular basis," he said.

"My concern is the safety of our officers who may be left to fend for themselves while their backup officer is sitting waiting for a tanker."

Metra Chief Ethics Officer William Benz said CP underestimated the number of freight trains and a merger would "considerably harm" commuter service.

In addition to delays, CP "at times blocks Metra's lines or dispatches freight and passenger trains onto tracks in a manner that forces passengers to cross tracks unnecessarily, dodge oncoming freight trains, or circumnavigate idling freight trains at Metra stations," he said.

Canadian Pacific officials touted the benefits of the merger in a statement.

"This historic proposal joining two railroads stretching across North America will provide economic, environmental and public benefits to the Chicago area," the statement read.

In the audience of more than 250 people was Chicagoan and STB Chairman Marty Oberman, former Metra chairman.

STB members will hold a hearing on the plan Sept. 28 through 30, and a final report is expected this winter with a board vote to follow.

The coalition members are DuPage County and Bartlett, Bensenville, Elgin, Itasca, Hanover Park, Roselle, Wood Dale and Schaumburg.

One green light for railway merger: 'Negligible' impact, analysts say; full STB has yet to decide

Will suburbs opposing railroad merger plan beat the odds?

Some suburbs along the Canadian Pacific tracks are opposing a plan to merge with the Kansas City Southern railway. Daily Herald File Photo
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