In December 2008, the Surface Transportation Board approved CN’s request to buy the smaller EJ&E, which extended in a half-circle from Waukegan to Joliet. Suburbs traversed by the EJ&E fought the plan, citing extra freight train traffic. The board agreed with CN that the purchase would reduce regional freight congestion but imposed numerous conditions on the railroad as a result and included a period of federal oversight until Jan. 23, 2015.
Last month, the STB extended the monitoring period until Jan. 23, 2017, citing concerns about additional freight traffic in the region.
Mongeau said the railroad’s acquisition of the EJ&E “gave CN what it was looking for — a route around Chicago,” that has a trickle-down effect on other railroads by taking its trains off other crowded tracks.
The railroad has spent $700 million on upgrades and safety improvements since 2008.
Twenty-eight out of 33 towns affected by the merger signed mitigation deals with CN, Mongeau noted. Holdouts included Aurora and Barrington, which fought against the merger and campaigned to extend the monitoring period.
In October 2014, there were 1,620 blocked railway crossings lasting 10 minutes or more on the EJ&E. In October 2009, early in the acquisition phase, there were just nine, according to CN data….
On tracks between Lake Zurich, Barrington and Hanover Park, traffic on the EJ&E grew from about five daily trains prior to the merger to 17 in October 2014.
This was a big issue for a number of suburban communities in the mid-2000s as they wondered how the purchase would affect freight traffic as well as block crossings, create more noise, and potentially harm property values. It sounds like the monitoring is intended to keep tabs on these changes and help ensure the railroad and communities work together. Yet, it is still important to keep the big picture in mind: moving traffic onto the EJ&E tracks can help alleviate freight traffic elsewhere, addressing the problem of the railroad bottleneck in the Chicago region. This sort of issue makes the case for metropolitanization where communities and government could come together and solve problems facing numerous municipalities.