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Area residents rise to fight CN rail bid
By Justin Kmitch | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 7/24/2008 12:05 AM

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They know they've got an uphill battle, but several local communities battling Canadian National Railway Co.'s $300 million pending purchase of the Elgin Joliet & Eastern railway vowed Wednesday to keep fighting.

Waubonsie Valley High School's Gold Campus resembled a recruiting station Wednesday night with about 600 eager warriors inside and several more lined up outside.

Inside they heard rally cries from Aurora, Naperville and Plainfield officials who have pledged their time and dollars to keep fighting the acquisition in the wake of pending environmental impact study results.

A draft of the study, expected to be released at the end of the summer, would accompany hearings and at least 45 days of comments from the affected communities.

Afterward, the three-member U.S. Surface Transportation Board would either approve or reject the deal.

"We are fighting a very powerful industry, a very powerful lobby. We are fighting a history of the STB almost perfunctorally approving these kinds of deals," Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner told the crowd. "We are fighting a tough opponent, but with the unified voice and effort here I think we have a good shot at accomplishing and maintaining the quality of life in this area that is so critical to all of us."

The EJ&E runs in an arc around Chicago from Waukegan to Gary, Ind. CN plans to use those lines as a bypass for freight traffic around Chicago.

Railroad officials say their purchase will help relieve rail congestion. They also say it will bring economic and environmental benefits to the Chicago area, which will preserve it as one of the major transportation hubs in the country.

According to CN maps, train traffic along Naperville's western border can expect daily traffic to increase from about 15.7 trains to between 37 and 42 trains per day.

But residents are concerned increased freight train traffic would drive businesses out of town and prevent the emergency responders from getting across their towns as quickly as possible.

"I bought my home several years ago, knowing the trains were nearby," said Aurora resident Hector Ramos. "But I bought knowing the amount of traffic that still comes through now, not what is expected. We can't have more noise and traffic backups here."

A statement issued by CN Wednesday night reiterated the company's pledge to work with the towns.

"CN continues to work with communities along the EJ&E Railway to find reasonable solutions that mitigate the impacts of increased train traffic in those communities," the statement read. "In addition, CN has pledged to work with Metra on all options for STAR Line service - including the use of EJ&E rail lines."

Everyone attending the meeting was encouraged to sign form letters and send them to state and federal officials urging them to prevent the acquisition.