WASHINGTON – In response to concerns raised by communities across Illinois, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) June 3 called on Canadian National to address ongoing safety and traffic issues including: Canadian National’s lack of cooperation with the State of Illinois and Amtrak, which has hindered efforts to expand rail service in Northern Illinois between Galena and Rockford; increased rail traffic that has resulted in a record rate of blocked rail crossings; and Canadian National’s refusal to work with local communities, like Richton Park, to resolve safety issues.
“Last year, I met with Canadian National President Claude Mongeau to discuss ongoing concerns regarding CN operations along the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway and new Amtrak service between Chicago-Rockford-Galena,” Durbin said. “Unfortunately, several significant issues remain unresolved, and I continue to hear from local communities looking for better cooperation from the rail company regarding their traffic and safety concerns.”
With the acquisition of the EJ&E Railway, Canadian National plans on significantly increasing freight rail traffic along the line (a four to six time increase in trains per day). In the decision to approve Canadian National’s acquisition of the EJ&E, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) established an oversight period of 5-years to monitor the operational and environmental impacts of the acquisition. In the June 3 letter, Durbin raised the possibility of extending that oversight period in order to ensure that the issues outlined below are addressed.
Lack of Cooperation Hindering Passenger Rail Expansion: The State of Illinois and Amtrak have been negotiating an agreement with CN to bring new passenger rail service from Chicago to Rockford and Galena. In May, the State of Illinois announced that due largely to the lack of cooperation from CN, it would be pursuing an alternate route between Chicago and Rockford along Union Pacific tracks. Because the only feasible rail route west from Rockford to Galena runs along the CN, the State of Illinois and Amtrak will not be able to provide service to Galena if CN continues to slow walk negotiations and makes unreasonable capital demands.
Failure to Respond to Community Safety Issues: Canadian National has not responded to even minor safety issues brought to its attention by communities along its rail line. Richton Park recently requested a small easement from CN to install safety fencing, using funding the community received through a grant from the Illinois Commerce Commission. Although these easements were required by the STB in several locations along the EJE, CN rejected Richton Park’s request and has been unresponsive to appeals to reconsider.
Increased Rail Traffic and Blocked Road-Rail Crossings: Increased rail traffic along the EJ&E has resulted in a record number of blocked road-rail crossings and increased delays throughout the EJ&E corridor. In the first quarter of this year, there have been 5,267 instances of crossings being blocked by trains for ten minutes or more – the highest number since CN took ownership of the rail line.
Durbin has been working to address community concerns about blocked crossings that exacerbate traffic bottlenecks and challenge emergency responders’ mobility, rail safety, noise, air pollution from additional congestion, and interference with proposed Metra expansions. In 2010, Durbin announced the City of Barrington received a $2.8 million grant to fund the planning, designing and engineering of a grade separation at the U.S. Route 14 and EJ&E crossing through the Department of Transportation’s Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER II) program.
In 2011, Durbin and Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) sent a letter to members of the STB regarding the Village of Barrington’s petition seeking additional mitigation efforts from the Canadian National. The Village also commissioned a study regarding the impact of Canadian National’s increased use of the EJ&E line that bisects the community. The Village’s review found that the STB’s previous study contained several flaws in the methodology and provided results that diluted actual traffic congestion and traffic delay impacts.
In 2013, after learning of CN’s efforts to avoid paying its fair share of mitigation efforts in Lynwood and Aurora, Durbin sent a letter to the STB urging the agency to extend the deadline by which construction must start on critical grade separations, preventing CN from running out the clock on meeting their responsibilities to those communities.
The full text of Durbin’s letter to Canadian National is below.
President and CEO
Canadian National Railway Company
P.O. Box 8100
Montreal, QC H3C 3H4
Dear Mr. Mongeau:
I am writing regarding CN’s poor communication and cooperation with Illinois passenger and freight rail stakeholders. We met last year to discuss local community concerns with CN operations over the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway (EJE) and new Amtrak service between Chicago-Rockford-Galena. Since that time, several of the issues we discussed then remain unresolved, and I encourage you move expeditiously to address them.
The State of Illinois and Amtrak have been trying to negotiate an agreement with CN to bring new passenger rail service from Chicago to Rockford and Galena. Last month, the State of Illinois announced it is pursuing an alternate route between Chicago and Rockford along Union Pacific tracks. This decision was due largely to the lack of cooperation from CN, which owns the originally selected route between those two cities. Unfortunately, the only feasible rail route West from Rockford to Galena runs along the CN. The State of Illinois and Amtrak will not be able to provide service to Galena as long as CN slow walks negotiations and makes unreasonable capital demands.
Secondly, several communities have contacted my office with concerns about increased rail traffic along the EJ&E. The Village of Barrington and City of Aurora have been vigilant in promoting increased rail safety, especially for trains carrying crude oil and ethanol. These large unit trains and other freight trains are blocking crossings and increasing delays throughout the EJ&E corridor. In fact, despite CN’s claims that track upgrades would decrease the number and duration of blocked crossings, there have been 5,267 instances of crossings being blocked by trains for ten minutes or more in the first quarter of 2014 – the highest number since CN took ownership of the rail line.
Even minor safety issues are being dismissed out of hand. For example, Richton Park recently requested a very small easement from CN to install safety fencing with a grant it received from the Illinois Commerce Commission. These easements were required by the Surface Transportation Board (STB) in several locations along the EJE, but CN summarily rejected Richton Park’s and has been unresponsive to appeals from our office and the local community to reconsider.
The STB placed CN under an unprecedented six year monitoring period after your railroad completed the controversial purchase of the EJE. The monitoring period is in place to ensure CN fully complies with the promises it made when CN acquired the EJE. That monitoring period expires at the end of this year, but it may be prudent to extend this period while the problems outlined above remain.
I hope CN can resolve these issues as soon as possible. I stand ready to work with you to improve the safety and availability of passenger and freight rail service along CN routes in Illinois.
chard J. Durbin