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CN Railway wants ruling on EJ&E purchase
By Marni Pyke | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 5/17/2008 12:15 AM

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On Tuesday, the Canadian National Railway asked the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to expedite a ruling on whether to allow the company to buy the EJ&E railroad.

On Friday, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Melissa Bean urged the same regulators to take all the time they need.

The contradictory demands are typical of the controversy swirling around CN's plan to acquire the underused EJ&E, now owned by U.S. Steel Corp.

CN's request triggered an environmental review, partially because of concerns by communities living near the EJ&E tracks.

The Montreal-based railroad plans to shift significant numbers of its freight trains from tracks going through Chicago onto the EJ&E line, which roughly stretches from Waukegan to Gary, Ind. The changes will greatly improve freight congestion and backups in the region, CN contends.

Towns such as Barrington and Naperville fear the plan will create traffic havoc, lower property values and cause dangerous delays for emergency vehicles.

Work on the environmental effect statement began after a public comment period that ended in February. In the past, such reports have taken 18 months to several years to produce.

CN representatives this week asked the Surface Transportation Board to produce a draft report by mid-July and a final version by Nov. 3. The railroad is seeking a decision by Dec. 1.

CN officials argued that the delays could jeopardize its purchasing agreement with U.S. Steel and suggested opponents were trying to kill the project with stalling tactics.

"The transaction will substantially enhance the efficiency of the rail transportation network in the Chicago area," CN wrote. "These benefits are at risk because CN may be forced to abandon the transaction if it cannot close."

But Durbin and Bean argued that unprecedented public turnout at meetings and thousands of comments deserved attention. They noted that there are many unanswered questions such as the amount of emissions from the freight trains, the increase in noise and vibration and the impact on Metra's proposed STAR line that was supposed to have used the EJ&E tracks.

Rushing the process "would jeopardize the ability of the STB to do the comprehensive investigation warranted," the lawmakers wrote.

STB officials said the board would rule on CN's request in the near future but couldn't give a date.