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Feds slap down attempt to block CN, EJ&E merger
By Marni Pyke and Eric Peterson | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 1/16/2009 4:19 PM | Updated: 1/16/2009 6:16 PM

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Federal regulators Friday slapped down an attempt by Barrington, Bartlett, Will County and a number of local congressmen to delay the controversial merger of CN and the smaller EJ&E railroads.

The communities have fought CN's plan to buy the EJ&E, arguing it will create noise, traffic and hazardous conditions in their towns.

CN has contended that its intention of moving freight trains from lines in Chicago and nearby suburbs onto the "J," which runs in a semicircle from Waukegan to Gary, Ind., will ease a bottleneck in the region.

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board agreed and on Dec. 24 approved the transaction.

Subsequently, Barrington and others asked for a stay of the Jan. 23 date the STB had declared that the merger would be effective.

STB members concluded that contrary to claims of merger opponents, any delays would harm the railroads and be contrary to public interest. Opponents also failed to show that environmental studies were inadequate or that communities along the "J" would suffer irreparable harm if the transaction moved forward, the STB declared.

Barrington Village President Karen Darch said both her village and the coalition of communities called The Regional Answer to Canadian National (TRAC) would be concentrating their legal efforts on the courts. Both Barrington and TRAC have filed federal suits challenging the sale.

She pointed to Friday's CN derailment in Buffalo Grove as evidence for the argument she and other TRAC members have been making for the past year regarding environmental and public safety concerns.

"I think it certainly presents a picture," Darch said. "It highlights CN's safety record, or lack of a safety record. Obviously we're arguing that the stay is necessary for the safety of the community."

CN officials however said that the company "is one of the safest railroads in the U.S. as demonstrated by its continued improvement in safety performance in 2008."

Regarding the STB ruling, "experts agree the Chicago region needs relief from congestion," CN vice president of North American government affairs Karen Phillips said in a statement. "The public interest benefits of rerouting traffic off congested lines through the city and inner suburbs onto the underutilized EJ&E are real."