Proposed Railroad Merger Sparks Intense Backlash From Officials in Chicago Suburbs

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A massive proposed merger between two of the largest railroad companies in the world has sparked a huge response from suburban officials and residents, who fear the union could cause significant safety issues in the months and years ahead.

The proposed merger between Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern railroads, estimated to be worth $31 billion, is currently under review by the Federal Surface Transportation Board, but local officials say the merger could cause significant issues for commuters and other residents.

Shareholders already approved the merger last year, and Canadian Pacific is now hoping that the federal government will sign off on the plan by early 2023.

A merger between the two companies could add significant rail traffic to Metra’s Milwaukee District West Line, which runs between Elgin and Bensenville. The agency, which opposes the merger, published a study that found that an additional 14 freight trains a day would cause a nearly 300% increase in delays per 100 train miles, according to Trains magazine.

As a result, communities from Bartlett to Roselle are banding together to try to convince the government to either put a halt to the merger, or to promise funds to pay for mitigations that will address safety and noise concerns.

Those residents and officials took their concerns directly to federal policy-makers on Monday, attending a meeting held by the FSTB.

“Adding more freight trains is a safety risk that we believe needs to be mitigated,” Karyn Robles, director of transportation for Schaumburg, said. “These rail lines impact more than just an individual community, and so what we’re trying to say collectively is that this isn’t just one community saying they don’t want more trains. It’s all of us coming together to say we share the concerns.”

Robles and other officials expressed concerns that emergency response times could be impacted by the miles-long freight trains, which would block at-grade crossings and cause huge traffic snarls. Some officials were also concerned about overnight trains causing noise issues in their communities.

“With the increased train traffic of getting our emergency vehicles on the other side of the tracks, the delay is roughly three minutes with freight trains coming through,” Roselle Fire Chief Mark Bozak said. “That three minutes can be the difference in life and death for our residents.”

Earlier this year, Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, as well as Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi and Marie Newman, came out in opposition to the merger.

The lawmakers raised complaints about noise pollution, blocked crossings, commuter rail delays and safety conditions.

“The proposed merger will reportedly triple freight traffic on the CP rail line that runs between Bensenville and Elgin, Illinois,” the lawmakers said. “We are concerned this increase will have significant impacts on noise, emergency response time, commuter rail operations, the environment and pedestrian safety.”

Canadian Pacific, which had earlier sought a merger with Norfolk Southern, operates trains that traverse Canada from coast-to-coast. The company also runs trains through the upper Mississippi River Valley, including in Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa and Illinois.

Meanwhile, the Kansas City Southern Lines operates in 10 states, including Illinois, and also has train lines that run into Mexico. A proposed merger between the companies would create the only railway system that runs through Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

Residents and officials in the Houston-area have also argued that the merger could cause increased rail congestion there, echoing many of the concerns of Chicago residents.

Elgin Mayor Dave Kaptain says that the impacted rail line dissects the community in two, with eight at-grade crossings in the urban area and hundreds of feet of rail line traveling just yards away from the Fox River, posing a combination of traffic and environmental concerns.

“I hope that the weight of our group will at least have the Transportation Safety Board look at what’s going on in our communities,” he said. “We’re just a small part of this great big expansion for the United States, and we want to have our voices heard.”

A final decision on the merger is expected next year.

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