Editorial: Suburbanites have till Friday to speak up about rail merger
It's 2013 again, only instead of Barrington leading the charge against the Canadian National's acquisition of the EJ & E Railroad, this time several suburbs along the Irving Park Road corridor are organizing to oppose Canadian Pacific's merger with Kansas City Southern.
Bartlett, Bensenville, Elgin, Hanover Park, Itasca, Schaumburg and Wood Dale are taking their case against the merger to the Surface Transportation Board, the federal agency that will approve the merger -- or not -- by next fall.
They are asking residents to help by filing statements of interest to the STB at h. (Scroll down to "Submit your project comments here.") The deadline is Friday (this Dec. 17).
Like Barrington, leaders of these suburbs worry about what six to eight additional freight trains a day on the Milwaukee/West line (one report says there are three now) will do to the communities. They worry that traffic will be frequently snarled; and that police, fire and paramedic units will get held up responding to emergencies.
They worry about the air quality effects of all those idling cars waiting at crossings. Itasca officials have expressed concern that all their crossings could be closed by one train. Wood Dale officials have estimated that their crossings could be blocked for more than two hours total each day. And then there is the anticipation of all those additional train whistles.
There's another side to the story, of course. Rail remains big business in this country -- in 2020 it moved about 28% of U.S. freight as measured in ton-miles, and it is considered among the most economical of transportation systems.
Canadian Pacific officials have said that acquiring the Kansas City Southern will streamline the transport of materials moving from one entity to the next -- for instance, connecting Detroit automakers with both Mexican and Canadian automakers more seamlessly than is currently possible. For CP, the merger also makes rail transport a more attractive option in parts of the nation that do not use it much now.
The acquisition also would make CP the first major rail line to traverse all of North America, from Canada to Mexico.
Yes, there are at least two sides to this story, maybe more. It is important that the suburbs be in a position to get our voices heard. Short of stopping the merger, there is still much our communities can demand and win if we work together. Mitigation over how long trains can block crossings could be one. Making deals to reduce train whistle noise could be another.
This will be a long road. The first step on it is getting those public comments filed with the Surface Transportation Board by Friday.