Lawmakers seek delay on rail merger vote after Ohio derailment crisis

Federal lawmakers from Illinois are asking the U.S. Surface Transportation Board's chief to delay a vote on a freight railway merger in light of hazmat concerns after a catastrophic derailment in Ohio.

Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth and U.S. Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi and Delia Ramirez on Thursday asked STB Chairman Marty Oberman to intervene in the Canadian Pacific Railway's acquisition of the Kansas City Southern Railway.

The four asked the STB to defer judgment "until there is a thorough review of the transportation of hazardous materials on the rail lines, including an analysis of how to strengthen oversight and safety protocols to ensure the safety of nearby residents and the surrounding environment."

A Norfolk Southern train derailed Feb. 3 in East Palatine, Ohio. A total of 38 railcars left the tracks including some with vinyl chloride that was released into the environment. The derailment has devastated the community and left many with health concerns.

CP leaders have defended their safety record and say the merger will create jobs and streamline shipping.

"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," CEO Keith Creel said at an STB hearing in 2022. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

The letter from the legislators references an STB report that states CP and KCS had five derailments between 2015 and 2019 where hazardous materials were released. The railroad had no comments Thursday.

An STB study "estimates that the proposed merger would cause almost 11,000 additional carloads of hazardous materials to be transported along the Metra line that runs from Elgin to Bensenville on the route to downtown Chicago and serves thousands of residents," they wrote.

Lawmakers also asked Oberman on Feb. 17 to delay a vote because they contend CP is underestimating the number of freights that will result if the merger is approved.

The chairman, who is a former Chicago alderman and Metra chairman, has not responded yet, a spokesman for Krishnamoorthi said.

A decision is expected in the coming days.

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