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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

STB denies TRAC petition on CN/EJ&E

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The U.S. Surface Transportation Board denied a petition filed by The Regional Answer To Canadian National (TRAC) coalition last week, local newspapers report. The TRAC petition was in response to Canadian National's recent request for track rights exemptions to allow the company to change the flow of freight train traffic on 17 Chicago area rail lines, including the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railroad.

TRAC filed a petition asking the Surface Transportation Board to stay a decision on the track rights request until it is determined how the change in those rights would impact the STB's approval of CN's purchase of the EJ&E Railroad. The exemptions are scheduled to become effective September 3 and 4, according to the STB document which denied TRAC's petition.

Members of the TRAC coalition, which is co-chaired by Barrington Village President Karen Darch, are questioning whether CN's request could be aimed at eventually adding trains to the EJ&E line and lines closer to the city that were supposed to see reduced train traffic with the acquisition of the EJ&E.

"Why didn't CN include these (trackage rights) in the proposal to purchase the EJ&E?" Darch said.

After CN filed its initial trackage rights exemption petition, the STB responded on Aug. 17 and asked CN for more information on how the trackage changes would impact the information the company submitted as part of the EJ&E Railroad purchase proposal. CN filed a response to the STB Aug. 21, which explained the track rights exemptions are needed to increase flexibility in its operations. The document also included maps of the affected tracks.

"There are no plans to reroute any trains onto the EJ&E or within the EJ&E arc that were not already taken into account with the EJ&E transaction," said CN spokesperson Patrick Waldron.

A second TRAC petition was filed simultaneously with the stay petition that requests that the STB reopen its Dec. 24, 2008 decision to approve the purchase so the Board can conduct a new environmental impact study which includes the track rights changes. The STB document denying the stay petition addressed the second petition but did not explicitly approve or deny it.

"The issue of whether the final decision in CN-EJ&E should be reopened or whether the EIS in that matter should be supplemented will be resolved in that proceeding and that separate issue does not control our disposition of the merits of these 17 trackage rights exemptions," stated the STB document.

Barrington, the STB, CN and other communities and government bodies are in the process of determining a hearing schedule for lawsuits filed with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., appealing the STB ruling to approve the EJ&E purchase.

The court ruled in May it would put the appeals process on hold until a third U.S. Surface Transportation Board member was appointed. On Aug. 13 Daniel R. Elliott III was sworn in as the third STB member and chairman of the Board.