Will lawmakers be able to stall vote on rail merger?
Can federal lawmakers put the brakes on a controversial merger between Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern railroads?
The U.S. Surface Transportation Board is expected to vote on the acquisition sometime before April 1.
On Friday, however, both of Illinois' U.S. senators and two of its House representatives asked STB Chairman Martin Oberman to defer a vote until the agency "conducts a more thorough and accurate study of the impacts of the merger on the Chicago region."
"The safety and livelihood of our Illinois communities must be a top priority as the STB considers this merger," Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth and U.S. Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi and Delia Ramirez wrote Oberman, a former Metra chairman.
The STB staff gave a green light to CP's purchase of KCS in a Jan. 27 environmental impact statement. Opponents say the report underestimates the number of freight trains that will move through the region as a result.
Canadian Pacific officials are bullish on the eventual outcome.
"Both of our teams at both CP and KCS are hard at work preparing to seamlessly integrate these two iconic companies," CEO Keith Creel said in a statement.
"I can tell you there's been a ton of tremendous work that's been accomplished by teams at both railways to ensure the smooth transition."
The deal would create a freight railroad stretching from Canada to Mexico, which CP says would create jobs and ease shipping delays.
DuPage County and a coalition of Bartlett, Bensenville, Elgin, Hanover Park, Itasca, Roselle, Schaumburg and Wood Dale contend the merger will cause gridlock and safety issues, such as delaying first responders.
Regarding the environmental impact statement, "we were disappointed but not necessarily surprised," Itasca Mayor Jeffrey Pruyn said. "It's a big, long network and they're evaluating the effect on the entire network."
He noted there were no infrastructure improvements to lessen the impact on the suburbs. When the board rules, "I hope we'll get something more; maybe a limit on the length of trains, which is our greatest concern."
Metra also objects, warning that a merger would create significant delays for Milwaukee District trains and increase risks for riders, which CP disputes.
Instead of three freight trains a day, opponents estimate 18 will rumble through the suburbs. CP experts project 11.
History indicates the STB will approve CP's acquisition of KCS, but the letter throws a wild card into the mix.
When the STB approved the Canadian National Railway's controversial purchase of the smaller EJ&E Railroad 15 years ago, it required CN to report delays and contribute millions for two underpasses in the suburbs.
This time, the Chicago region faces competition with towns from Texas to Minnesota seeking mitigations.
"I really see there's two parts to it," Schaumburg Mayor Tom Dailly said. The final decision by the board "will be the most important, and I hope they take into consideration what we've been talking about. It's not as much the merger itself -- it's about the impact the merger will have."
One more thing
In the final environmental impact statement, CP promises to install alerts giving advance notice of blocked crossings to drivers and first responders, plus pay for a wireless system to reduce inadvertent gate and light activations at Metra stations.
The STB staff recommended CP pay for a liaison between the railroad and towns opposing the merger who would consult with local leaders and hold periodic public meetings over a five-year period.
Learn more about Lake County's Lewis Avenue Corridor Modernization Project at a forum from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at John R. Lewis Middle School, 600 S. Lewis Ave. in Waukegan.
The county is studying improvements to a stretch of Lewis between Route 137 to Belvidere Road in North Chicago and Waukegan.
You should know
Duckworth, a former Army pilot, grilled Federal Aviation Administration acting chief Billy Nolen on Wednesday about how a computer outage stopped distribution of mandatory safety notices to pilots in January, causing a nationwide ground stop.
"A safety system should never be left vulnerable to a single point of failure," said Duckworth, chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Safety, Operations and Innovation.
"It is FAA's job to keep our airspace safe, but it is impossible for FAA to do this unless its systems have appropriate redundancies."
The hearing was part of the committee's work on FAA reauthorization legislation this year.