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Thursday, November 05, 2009

CN, disgruntled communities meet

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Barrington and Aurora, Ill., officials met separately Nov. 4 with new Surface Transportation Board Chairman Dan Elliott, a day after he toured the EJ&E rail line with representatives of its new owner, Canadian National, the Daily Herald reports.

Aurora city spokeswoman Carie Anne Ergo said a gathering of municipal leaders from the southern suburbs affected by the CN purchase of the EJ&E spent nearly two hours with Elliott discussing issues they're facing because of the increased rail traffic. She said STB officials told the group they heard many of the same concerns in Barrington.

"I think the STB has a greater understanding of how the acquisition of the EJ&E has affected communities, and we've opened dialogue for CN to have greater accountability," Ergo said.

Barrington Village President Karen Darch said the biggest benefit of Elliott and his staff's visit was their ability to see firsthand what communities like hers are concerned about, rather than relying on a written description in a report.

"I think the most significant thing is that they now understand some of the issues we've raised over the oversight," Darch said.

But CN spokesman Patrick Waldron said the rail transportation company was equally pleased by its chance to update Elliott on the progress of its acquisition and improvement of the line Tuesday.

Nevertheless, Ergo regarded the open exchange with Elliott, whose board has oversight of the EJ&E acquisition, as a first.

"The chairman is one of only three members, but definitely he was open to suggestions and willing to listen to concerns," Ergo said. "That's an open door that this region hasn't experienced with the STB and was encouraging to a lot of people in the room."

Ergo said the chief complaint from the group centered on what the municipal leaders said was their "struggle to get CN to live up to the agreements they made when they took over this line."

Municipal leaders assert the railroad company has not done any promised noise mitigation and has yet to provide training for hazardous material spills to first responders.

However, CN's report to the STB for the third quarter of 2009 shows that both Aurora and Barrington were among communities who sent the allowed two emergency workers each to a haz-mat training session provided by CN.

Aurora officials Wednesday also took Elliott and STB staffers to the Ogden Avenue intersection with the EJ&E line to show them firsthand the impact there.

Waldron said CN's tour of the line with Elliott the day before demonstrated the company's progress. He added that CN has agreements with 19 communities along the length of the EJ&E, which runs in an arc around the Chicago region from Waukegan to Gary, Ind.

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