Safety concerns grow over railroad merger along Milwaukee District West Line after Ohio derailment

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Monday, February 27, 2023
Concerns about railroad merger grow after Ohio train derailment
Groups are concerned that the CP KCS merger could impact Fox River water quality after the East Palestine, Ohio train derailment and chemical spill.

A train hit the car that was carrying 14-year-old Lauren Wilson 28 years ago next week.

The popular high school student was killed when the car she was in went around crossing gates and was struck by a train in Hinsdale.

"They would've saved Lauren's life that day," said DuPage Railroad Safety Council member Dr. Lanny Wilson.

SEE ALSO | Ohio toxic train derailment: NTSB releases preliminary report into East Palestine wreck

Lauren's father now heads a group dedicated to railroad safety, including crossing gates that block all lanes to keep cars from going around them. His group is now opposing the proposed $31 billion merger of the Canadian Pacific and Kansas City southern railroads, which could dramatically increase traffic on Metra's Milwaukee District West Line.

"The increased traffic that we're talking about with this merger, there would be more chances for those crashes to occur at grade level crossings," Wilson said.

A coalition of eight west suburban mayors and DuPage County officials have opposed the proposed merger for more than a year. They say the substantially longer trains and increased traffic would cause numerous safety concerns, including the increased risk of a derailment like the one in East Palestine, Ohio that spilled toxic chemicals.

"If you overlay what you saw in Ohio, and looked at those freight cars, many of those freight cars would be in the Fox River, and that would affect water quality from Elgin to the Illinois River," said Elgin Mayor Dave Kaptain.

RELATED | Ohio train derailment: East Palestine residents worry rashes, headaches may tie to crash chemicals

The Fox River, which provides drinking water to several west suburban communities, runs right next to the tracks in Elgin. Many in the coalition are concerned the Surface Transportation Board will approve the merger without answering their safety concerns.

"We're saying to the federal government, 'You need to do better, because we don't want a Palestine here in our community," said Stop CPKC Coalition Chairperson Carie Anne Ergo.

The Surface Transportation Board in Washington, D.C. needs to approve the merger before it can go forward. The suburban coalition said so far, the group has ignored their concerns. They are hoping the derailment in Ohio will cause them to reconsider.