Coalition to Stop CPKC is urging Elgin residents to speak out against the Canadian Pacific/Kansas City Southern rail merger, which they say would nearly double train traffic and cause dangerous traffic, emergency vehicle and noise problems.
The Federal Board of Surface Transportation begins hearings on the merger next month and will accept public comments on the project’s environmental impact during a meeting on September 12 in Itasca. Comments can also be submitted during a merger hearing in Washington, DC, in late September.
“This is coming to a head,” said Elgin Mayor David Kaptain.
Elgin is one of nine government agencies that make up the coalition, formed to fight the $31 billion deal that would create the largest freight forwarding company from Mexico to Canada via the US.
In addition to Elgin, the cities of Bartlett, Hanover Park, Itasca, Schaumburg, Roselle, Wood Dale and Bensenville and DuPage County are part of the group.
“We are encouraging anyone who has a concern to go to the Stop CPKC and writing letters to the Illinois delegation and the Washington, DC delegation,” said coalition spokeswoman Judy Pardonnet-Hilkevitch, director of communications for Strategia, which was hired to handle the coalition’s campaign.
If the merger goes through, the number of freight trains using the line through the western suburbs would increase from 8 to 14 a day and those trains could be up to two miles long, Pardonnet-Hilkevitch said.
“It is going to have a significant and irreversible impact,” he said.
Longer and more frequent freight trains will create traffic problems for Elgin, which already has traffic jams on Kimball and Wing streets due to existing commercial and passenger trains, Kaptain said.
“One of the things for us is the proximity of the railway to our center and to the river. It’s a big concern,” the mayor said.
If there were to be a train derailment, potential spills could end up in the Fox River, which provides some of Elgin’s drinking water, he said.
Kaptain and Elgin City Manager Rick Kozal plan to be at the Washington hearing, where they will speak out against the merger and ask that Canadian Pacific, which would take over Kansas City Southern, provide an insurance bond for possible accidents, he said.
“You can’t think it’s not going to happen. We have to have a security plan,” Kaptain said.
Each municipality in the coalition has a primary concern, Pardonnet-Hilkevitch said.
Itasca officials are concerned that increased freight train traffic will affect police and fire response times because the train tracks bisect the town in half, he said. It’s a health and safety issue for Itasca, as response times are critical in emergency situations, she said.
The environmental study that was carried out is superficial, according to Pardonnet-Hilkevitch. He acknowledged that there would be an increase in noise, but offered no ways to mitigate it.
“They used a lot of data, but didn’t drill down,” he said, citing the report’s conclusion that the effect would be “insignificant, minor, and/or temporary.”
Kaptain said he worries that they can’t convey the importance of potential problems because suburbia is just one small part of a much larger issue.
“Our little piece of the world is lost. This is thousands of miles of track that they had to review,” she said. “We’re focused on downtown Elgin, and they may not see those things.”
The transportation board is expected to make a decision on the merger in early 2023.
Gloria Casas is a freelance reporter for The Courier-News.