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Friday, August 28, 2009

TRAC challenging CN request for trackage rights

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The Regional Answer to Canadian National (TRAC) is petitioning the Surface Transportation Board to take a careful look at a recent request by Canadian National to increase its trackage rights on its rail lines throughout the City of Chicago and suburbs. In a move that went virtually undetected, on August 5, 2009, CN filed 17 simultaneous Trackage Rights Exemption requests with the STB asking that it be allowed to change the flow of train traffic on its Chicago area railroad subsidiaries, Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway, Illinois Central Railroad Company, Wisconsin Central, Grand Trunk Western Railroad and Chicago, Central & Pacific Railroad. This request could allow CN the ability to significantly increase the number of trains that operate along the EJ&E line and its subsidiaries in dozens of towns including Chicago, Mundelein, Schiller Park, Broadview, Joliet, Frankfort, Markham, Buffalo Grove and parts of Indiana.

In response to CN's trackage rights request, the STB responded, "Neither CN nor any of the carriers submitting these notices has explained how the notices relate to each other, or how they would impact the operational information provided to the Board in CN-EJ&E." The STB further directed CN to "submit this information, as well as a color-coded map showing all 17 proposed trackage rights exemptions, by August 21, 2009."

According to TRAC, CN's August trackage rights filings were an effort to obfuscate the reality of their impact on the EJ&E transaction. CN offered a cursory response to the STB clarification request that, in part, says the exemption requests are "to increase the flexibility of its operations among its subsidiaries."

TRAC believes that CN's response to the STB is inconclusive and further points to the coalition's belief that CN was not forthright with its full plans for expansion along the EJ&E and its true impact on those "Winner" communities that were promised they would benefit from the transaction.

Late August 27, TRAC filed two petitions with the STB; the first asking the Board to reopen its decision to approve the purchase of the EJ&E by CN and seeking a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. The first filing reads in part, "this petition is based on new evidence and materially changed circumstances, and supplementation of the EIS is warranted in order to address substantial changes in the proposed action, and significant new and relevant circumstances and information." The second petition asks the STB to stay a decision on the trackage rights question until the STB determines how it will impact its decision granting approval for CN's acquisition of the EJ&E.

"CN's request for 17 trackage right waivers raises a red flag and forces us to question why CN waited until after the transaction was approved by the STB to file this request," says Karen Darch, Barrington Village President and TRAC co-chair. "We are thankful that the STB is examining CN's request as these latest filings indicate that the original environmental review was based on weighing positive benefits to communities that aren't going to prove real or lasting."

"This should have been included in CN's original request to the STB for approval of its purchase of the EJ&E," says Tom Weisner, Mayor of Aurora and TRAC co-chair. "We warned that CN was publicly underestimating its true plans for expansion while the purchase was under review by the STB. This could prove to be a devastating blow to communities already suffering from additional train traffic as well as those communities that were promised freight traffic relief."

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