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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

CN moves on PTC

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A $10-billion unfunded mandate regarding "positive train control" -- wherein trains will need to be outfitted with GPS technology that'll detect when trains are near each other -- may hamper the railroad industry as a whole, but as far as Canadian National's plans for Northwest Indiana go, it's full steam ahead, the Gary Post-Tribune reports.

The railroad company has big plans for the city's Kirk Yard during the three-year upgrade and expansion of its $300-million EJ&E acquisition, Canadian National Senior Manager for Governmental Affairs Kevin Soucie told the Gary Chamber of Commerce at its monthly luncheon Monday.

Those plans have yet to be ironed out, he admitted, but $100 million has been earmarked for the upgrade to the Blue Line, which circles Chicagoland's outermost rim and ends at Kirk. Another $60 million will go toward mitigation.

"We're still looking at the logistics, particularly around stations near Bartlett and Mundelein, Ill.," said Pat Waldron, public affairs manager for CN's southern region. "As far as commuter rail goes, those companies tend to go where tracks already exist, so there's that to consider as well."

Freight transport will continue to be the fastest, least expensive way to transport items as long as Congress keeps regulation at bay. Freight and rail transport prior to 1980 was sluggish and expensive, and customers abandoned it as a reliable method in droves, Soucie said.

Once the Staggers Rail Act of 1980 was passed, railroads were able to phase out across-the-industry rates, establish contracts outside of Interstate Commerce Commission review and work with each other on reciprocal switching, among other provisions.

The act turned the rail industry into the leanest transport mode there is, and it's remained as such for the last 30 years, Soucie said. It moves hundreds of millions of freight tons per year, keeping it off the roads.

"If rail can't move it, the highway will, and I don't have to tell you what that's like during rush hour," Soucie said. "A single train takes hundreds of trucks off roads."

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