Railroad merger OK blasted by suburban mayors, Illinois lawmakers

Metra, suburban mayors wary of more delays because of increase freight traffic in the Chicago area.

SHARE Railroad merger OK blasted by suburban mayors, Illinois lawmakers
A Canadian Pacific locomotive

Canadian Pacific will be allowed to merge with Kansas City Southern after a ruling Wednesday by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

AP file

Elected officials blasted the federal government’s approval Wednesday of the merger of Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern railways, calling it a disastrous decision that will slow commuter rail service, impede first responders and risk people’s lives.

The merger could further tie up commuters using Metra’s Milwaukee District-West Line as regulators expect the number of daily freight trains to increase from three to 11.

“To say we’re disappointed is a gross understatement,” said Frank DeSimone, village president of Bensenville. “They approved a 400% increase in freight traffic in our community.”

DeSimone is part of a coalition of eight northwest suburban mayors who oppose the merger. The other villages are Elgin, Bartlett, Hanover Park, Schaumburg, Roselle, Itasca and Wood Dale.

Metra said it “remains concerned about the potential impact of this merger on our operations.”

“We will count on the merged railroad’s commitments and the [U.S. Surface Transportation Board’s] oversight to make sure we can operate safely and reliably and continue to provide service that meets the needs of the residents of the Chicago area,” the transit agency said.

The $31 billion acquisition is the first railroad merger in two decades. Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern railways are the nation’s two smallest railroads, but the merger creates the first railway linking Canada, Mexico and the United States.

U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., speaking with the coalition in Itasca, Illinois, on Wednesday, said the Surface Transportation Board “rushed through this decision without contemplating what we learned in East Palestine,” referring to the freight train derailment last month in Ohio that spilled hazardous materials.

Krishnamoorthi, Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill, and Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.. and Rep. Delia Ramirez, D-Ill., sent a joint statement blasting the merger.

The board “sided with corporations over our constituents,” the lawmakers wrote. “We are deeply disappointed” and will “keep a watchful eye” on the regulator during the seven-year oversight period it has over the merger, they wrote.

The lawmakers have sent several letters to the Surface Transportation Board opposing the merger. In July, they urged the board to meet directly with Illinoisans to hear about impacts on the communities.

In the wake of the Norfolk Southern derailment in Ohio, the lawmakers again advised against the merger until the board completed a review of the expected increased traffic of hazardous materials.

The Surface Transportation Board tried to allay the fears of the deal, saying Wednesday that studies show impacts will be minimal around Chicago.

“We very seriously took into account Metra’s concerns,” said Martin J. Oberman, chairman of the Surface Transportation Board.

“CP and Metra have been working on those lines for decades,” he said. “Having us monitoring [them] now, in a way that wasn’t before, if anything will improve Metra and CP’s ability to play together. And that’s what I expect. And if they don’t, we’ll make them.”

Oberman is a former Metra chairman and former Chicago alderman.

Oberman addressed complaints of several Chicago suburban mayors, who formed the Coalition to Stop CPKC, who worried the merger would increase blocked crossings and impede first responders. The mayors asked for $9 million for overpasses to bypass those crossings.

Oberman said the fears are not warranted.

“The data showed it isn’t necessary. However, if a problem were to arise,” he said, “if there are blockings causing a serious public health problem, that’s why we have an oversight period.”

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