Durbin, Krishnamoorthi call on federal board to delay merger between Canadian Pacific Railway and Kansas City Southern

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said the merger would mean more freight trains moving through the Chicago area that could be harmful to the environment, trigger traffic jams on streets and make it more difficult for first responders to get to places in times of emergencies.

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U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., calls on the Surface Transportation Board to delay its decision on whether to approve a merger between Canadian Pacific Railway and Kansas City Southern until the Chicago area can assess how it would be impacted.

Manny Ramos/Sun-Times.

A merger between two large freight railroad companies could potentially spell disaster for the Chicago area if allowed to go through unchecked, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., warned on Tuesday.

“Railroads are an important part of our lives and our economy,” Durbin said. “But we got to make certain that as we look to the future of these railroads that we consider the people who are affected by it.”

Durbin’s comments come as the Surface Transportation Board is in the middle of holding a six-day hearing on the potential merger of Canadian Pacific Railway and Kansas City Southern that will ultimately impact Illinois, Iowa, Missouri and Texas. The merger has faced scrutiny from local municipalities in each of these states over the potential problems that await if the merger is allowed to go through in its current form.

Durbin — along with Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., and other elected officials — called on the independent federal agency to postpone making any decisions until the Chicago area can conduct its own environmental impact study.

“We’re worried, the [Surface Transportation Board] is to make its decision soon in a matter of a few months,” Durbin said. “We don’t believe they have all the information they need, and they got to take a look at the Chicagoland area and the economic and environmental impact of this merger.”

Durbin said more freight trains moving through the Chicago area could be harmful to the environment and also trigger traffic jams on the streets, making it more difficult for first responders to get to places in times of emergencies — putting lives at risk.

Durbin said the merger will likely mean going from three freight trains per day to as many as 18 trains per day in the Chicago area.

“We’re not saying that it is impossible to do this merger — it could be building some rail facility west of the metropolitan area will solve the problems,” Durbin said.

Canadian Pacific contends it would only increase the number of freight trains by an average of eight per day — from three to 11 trains.

Patrick Waldron, a spokesman with Canadian Pacific, said the merger will help connect a single railroad company across Canada, the United States and Mexico.

“This historic proposal joining two railroads stretching across North America will provide economic, environmental and public benefits to the Chicago area and beyond, including providing more efficient transportation options for our economy,” Waldron said.

Waldron said it would have only a net positive because it would take trucks off congested highways in the Chicago area and in the state while lowering emissions.

“We recognize that there will be some modest local environmental impacts from the new freight traffic we anticipate being attracted to our network,” Waldron said. “This is the kind of change that comes with the broader public benefits of creating new and better transportation alternatives.”

Krishnamoorthi said he is concerned that the two railroad companies have not been completely forthright in the proposal for the merger about how it would impact communities. For one, it wouldn’t commit to saying what is the maximum number of trains it would send through the Chicago area.

“There’s no other metropolitan community in the country that would be affected as much as the Chicagoland region,” Krishnamoorthi said.

Krishnamoorthi said the rail line most vulnerable in the region is the Milwaukee District West Line, which is 20 miles of track and has 54 crossings. With more trains crossing and blocking off roads it could delay first responders significantly.

For example, Itasca Fire Protection District Chief Jack Schneidwind said when freight trains are crossing, they are forced to find an alternative route if the call is on the opposite side of the tracks, which means a one-minute run could take 14 minutes.

Kansas City Southern didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The merger is also being opposed by Metra because a significant increase of freight traffic on its Milwaukee District lines could disrupt its scheduling of commuter trains. Canadian Pacific has a 99-year track agreement that was entered into over 40 years ago.

“This proposed merger stands to considerably harm commuter rail service due to additional merger-related traffic on the Metra-owned Milwaukee District lines,” William Benz, Metra’s chief ethics officer, told the Surface Transportation Board last month.

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