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Big consumer costs hidden in merger
Letter to the Editor
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Published: 5/31/2008 4:12 PM

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To the editor: Much has been discussed and written about the proposed EJ&E purchase by the Canadian National Railway. What's not surfaced is the potential financial toll to commuters stalled by CN freight trains daily if the Surface Transportation Board approves this acquisition. Would about $63,387,360 annually surprise you? Then read on.

CN initially plans to run 24 additional freight trains per day through 134 "at grade" crossings. Each train might delay an average of 30 vehicles for five minutes. Some crossings may halt few vehicles while others would stall dozens or hundreds. This adds up to 8,040 idle hours for vehicles and drivers each day, or 2,934,600 hours annually.

The average vehicle (hybrid to semi) wastes 0.4 gallons of fuel per hour when idling. Permitting these CN trains to pass through will burn 1,173,840 gallons of fuel per year spewing 23 million pounds of carbon dioxide skyward. At $4 per gallon for fuel, that will cost $4,695,360/year.

Next, according to 2003 data for the area the average worker is paid $20 per hour. Therefore, the cost to employers paying employees to wait at crossings, or the opportunity cost to drivers waiting to clock in while they're idle amounts to $58,692,000 annually. This assumes only one worker per vehicle, but in these times more people car pool to work.

Even if you cut these costs 10-20 percent, they're still staggering. Further, for those communities believing they will benefit from reduced rail traffic by CN, think again. The minute CN releases their current routes other freight companies will snatch them up faster than Todd Stroger can raise sales taxes.

These costs will exceed CN's EJ&E investment in less than five years. Perhaps the communities that will be negatively affected by proposed CN traffic should team with Metra to purchase the EJ&E. Metra can use the rails they need for the Star line, and the remaining corridors could become unprecedented green trails for walking, jogging or cycling.

CN claims this move is good for our region. It isn't, yet they've asked the STB recently to expedite their decision. I wonder why.

James C. Hammond

Barrington Hills