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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Editorial: Extend monitoring of CN merger

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Was it an honest mistake? Or a calculated move to minimize the effect of bringing more freight trains on the EJ&E railroad tracks? The Daily Herald asks in an editorial. The true answer may never be known. But we agree with those who say Canadian National Railway, EJ&E's owner, should be held accountable for providing flawed data.

Instead of just 14 crossing delays in November and December, for example, the true number of delays was 1,457, according to a federal audit estimation. And using the same method of reporting both stopped and slow-moving trains-as opposed to CN's data of looking only at stopped trains-monthly delays this year show a marked increase from monthly delays last year. And those numbers are increasing.

In January, there were 1,156 crossing delays. February increased to 1,239 and March saw 1,804. That's up from a monthly average of 946 from July through December 2009.

Daily Herald Transportation Writer Marni Pyke detailed the worst areas Sunday. Intersections in Mundelein, Bartlett and West Chicago all are on the list. So are those in Naperville and Aurora. The problems are system-wide on the tracks that stretch from Waukegan to the West suburbs to Gary, Ind.

It's true, as Pyke reported, that delays were expected when the federal Surface Transportation Board allowed CN to move freight trains onto the underused tracks to help ease freight congestion in other areas. But that's also why CN was directed to help pay for noise and safety improvements and to provide monthly reports on the effects of the merger.

So to find out those reports are flawed, through an outside auditor brought in to check up on CN, is disturbing to say the least. And, at the very minimum, a five-year oversight plan should be extended by one year as has been suggested.

"It's not clear if we would ever have gotten this information if we had not been diligent," said STB member Chip Nottingham, who wants the oversight extended.

Barrington Mayor Karen Darch agrees. Barrington has been fighting the merger from the beginning and is one of 11 communities along the EJ&E that has not signed a deal with CN for the improvements. Instead, they hope the entire plan will one day be reversed.

We agree with Mundelein Village Administrator John Lobaito who said towns need to be resolving issues with CN rather than trying to overturn a decision not likely to be reversed.

And we believe CN still has much work to do to be a true partner with communities along the tracks rather than a nuisance. The oversight needs to continue for a longer period, and CN needs to work on improving its standing in the region.

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