The US Surface Transportation Board’s approval on Wednesday for a controversial merger between the Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern railroads drew quick criticism from affected communities, despite conditions imposed by regulators.
“We have determined that the overall benefit of the merger of these two railroads will benefit the American economy and will be a safety and environmental improvement for all citizens,” STB Chairman Marty Oberman said at a briefing in Washington.
The merger creates a rail line that stretches from Mexico to Canada. It will create jobs, increase competition and shift an estimated 64,000 truckloads from North America’s roads to rail, the agency found. It will also result in eight more freight trains running in the region each day, for a total of eleven.
Members of the Illinois congressional delegation and numerous suburbs warned of intersection congestion and possible derailments, while Metra predicted significant delays on its Milwaukee District lines, which CP uses.
“To say we’re disappointed is an understatement,” Bensenville Village President Frank DeSimone said at a Coalition to Stop CPKC news conference in Itasca. “They ignored our concerns about safety, they ignored our concerns about the quality of life, and they ignored our concerns about the negative impact on economic development.”
The eight-city, DuPage County coalition disputes CP’s train numbers and predicts as many as 18 freight trains will rumble through the suburbs each day.
“Disgusting,” said Hanover Park Mayor Rod Craig, noting that the Coalition had asked CP for $400 million to improve safety at critical intersections, but “this $31 billion merger was approved with little help to our communities. We expect better.”
The STB did not recommend CP to subsidize any area separations, but imposed an “unprecedented” seven-year surveillance period on CP/KCS freight traffic in the Chicago area to see if “operational problems” arise for Metra and a dispute resolution process, triggered when local trains are delayed for consecutive months.
The railroads must also provide data on the length of trains, as well as numbers, and set up a community link for local leaders in Chicago.
“Metra remains concerned about the potential impact of this merger on our business,” said spokesman Michael Gillis. “We will count on the obligations of the merged railroad and the oversight of STB to ensure we operate safely and reliably and continue to provide services that meet the needs of Chicago area residents.”
Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth and U.S. Representatives Raja Krishnamoorthi and Delia Ramirez had asked the STB to delay a decision in light of the February 3 derailment of a Norfolk-Southern train in eastern Palestine, Ohio. Numerous railcars overturned and vinyl chloride was released, causing health problems in the small town.
“As our nation grapples with one of the most serious rail safety issues in generations … the STB has hastily made a decision without considering the impact of the East Palestine disaster,” Schaumburg Democrat Krishnamoorthi said in Itasca on Wednesday.
However, STB’s Oberman, a Chicagoan and former Metra chairman, said if “you look at the safety record of any (major) Class 1 railroad — CP has the safest record and KCS is right behind.”
In 2022, “94% of all hazardous material issues (like) occurred on trucks. Only 1% by rail,” he noted.
Coalition members said legal action was possible and continued to dispute CP’s train estimates.
Meanwhile, CP CEO Keith Kreel welcomed the benefits of the ruling. “These benefits are unprecedented for our employees, rail customers, communities and the North American economy at a time when the supply chains of these three great nations have never needed them more,” said Creel.
The two railroads could unite as early as April 14.
Itasca Fire Chief Jack Schneidwind said the STB minimized the negative impact of blocked crossings.
“Our concern is for the police officer who has encountered a situation where he or she needs assistance and it is being delayed,” he said. “Our concern is the survivability of a citizen who collapses and stops breathing but the ambulance is delayed because of a freight train.”
Elgin Mayor Dave Kaptain, who has warned that a spill of hazardous materials could affect the city’s drinking water, said at a separate event that “a few minutes’ delay for a firefighter or someone who needs an ambulance can mean life and death”.
Oberman acknowledged the community’s concerns, adding that he has attended every public hearing, but said a review of CP’s data showed that Chicago-area freight rates would increase by about 10 car cars on average.
If CP’s forecasts turn out to be inaccurate and “if there are blockages that cause serious health problems – that’s why we have the oversight and the authority to order further mitigation measures.” We’ll be there,” Oberman said.
“I can assure all first responders – if they can identify a problem, we will do everything under the sun to solve the problem.”
• Rick West, reporter for the Daily Herald, contributed to this report.