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Friday, August 14, 2009

CN: Train fears not a reality

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Where are all the trains? When Canadian National Railway won federal approval to buy the EJ&E line for $300 million in December, suburbs worried about the effects of heavy freight traffic, the Plainfield, Ill., Sun reports.


But according to the most recent CN report to the federal Surface Transportation Board, fears about freight traffic haven't yet materialized for the 198-mile line that runs from Waukegan to Gary and in the Southland winds in and out of Joliet, Plainfield, New Lenox, Frankfort, Mokena, Matteson, Richton Park and Chicago Heights.


That's because the bad economy has resulted in lower freight traffic volumes than before the EJ&E purchase, according to CN spokesman Patrick Waldron. CN reported that it has not diverted any CN trains formerly running on Chicago and inner-suburban tracks onto the EJ&E beyond one northbound and one southbound train moved onto the line in March. It also rerouted a train from Canada onto the EJ&E line. But the overall train count remains "below pre-transaction levels" for June 2009, CN said.

Barrington, Ill., Mayor Karen Darch, part of a coalition of local officials who oppose the EJ&E acquisition, said she had noticed less freight early in the summer, but in the past two weeks has seen a slight increase.


She said suburbs along the EJ&E line are not just concerned about heavier rail traffic but also safety. She noted a June derailment in Rockford that resulted in an explosion of ethanol-carrying rail cars and the death of a woman. She also pointed to another derailment in Buffalo Grove in January.


The Surface Transportation Board had found that 15 railroad crossings from the northern suburbs to northwest Indiana would see big increases in freight-caused traffic delays as a result of the EJ&E purchase, and suburbs expressed fears about ambulances not being able to get to hospitals.


CN had argued that 60 communities in Chicago and the suburbs would experience rail congestion relief, about twice the number that would see more traffic. Some track segments not on the EJ&E line have seen substantial drops in traffic, including the Markham-to-Matteson segment of the CN line, which saw a drop of 12.6 trains a day before the sale to 6.1 trains a day in June, according to the CN report.


The coalition opposing the EJ&E purchase is appealing the transportation board's approval of the transaction.

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