CN Accused of Understating Rail Delays

Railroad company accused of significantly understating delays

Wednesday, Apr 21, 2010  |  Updated 9:15 PM CDT
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CN Accused of Understating Rail Delays

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Canadian National Railway could be understating by a hundred-fold the delays its trains create on a Chicago-area rail line that's been a source of tension between the company and dozens of suburbs, federal regulators said Wednesday.

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board called on Montreal-based CN to explain why it reported a mere 14 train blockages of road crossings of 10 minutes or more in November and December when consultants brought in by the regulator found more than 1,400.

"It's a big problem and we made that argument during the hearings," said Mundelein's village administrator, John Lobaito, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Many of the nearly 30 communities along the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway line that swings around Chicago to the west opposed its sale to CN two years ago, fearing an increase in the number of trains operating on the line would block streets and snarl car traffic.

One Mundelein resident said he fears the rail traffic will get to be "ridiculous" when the economy picks up and he said he's especially concerned about hospital and emergency vehicles being able to get through when they need to.

Longtime CN critics expressed dismay at the apparent gap between the reported and actual delays.

"I think their credibility is in question when you hear a number like that and a differential like that," said Karen Darch, Barrington's Village President.

U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert, a Republican from Hinsdale, said the trains have been "severing vital community links, creating immense traffic congestion, and cutting off fire trucks and ambulances from those who need help."

The board, which requires that CN file regular reports on delays, asked the company to explain the discrepancies at an April 28 hearing in Washington, D.C. It also asked the consulting company that came up with the far higher figure, Omaha, Neb.-based HDR Inc., to appear.

In a statement released Wednesday evening, CN says it was only reporting delays caused by stopped trains, rather than all instances of blocked crossings, regardless of cause.  The company says the STB was well-aware of this fact, but said it would supply more complete data going forward.

Chicago is a vital but often clogged hub of the U.S. rail network. CN argued when it was in the process of buying the EJ&E that its development of the line would dramatically improve the overall flow of freight trains in and around the city.

In approving the $300 million sale after months of heated debate, the transportation board also required CN to take measures to ease any disruptions to cities, towns and villages along the line, including by installing soundproofing in some places.

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