BARTLETT, Ill. (WLS) -- Residents and police and fire chiefs packed a meeting in the northwest suburbs Monday night to vocally oppose the proposed $31 billion merger of the Canadian Pacific and Kansas City southern railroads.
A coalition of northwest suburban mayors have already voiced their objection to the proposal. Monday night's packed public meeting joined them in concerns about traffic congestion but, more importantly, what it means when they need to call for help.
"This is a police responder's nightmare," one speakers said. "When time is of the essence, we can't afford to gamble."
MaryAnn Tardi shared the concerns, as she lives south of the train tracks off a main artery in Itasca.
"If we had those railroad tracks interrupting any timing, it would be loss of life for a lot of people," she said.
"We don't want these trains going through our towns; we don't have the capacity for this," said Sandra Falco who lives south of the train tracks in Wood Dale.
Public officials say aside from the quality of life concerns with increased train traffic, they're also worried about safety. Wood Dale Fire Chief James Burke said every second counts when a fire truck or ambulance is on their way to an emergency and needs to get across the tracks.
"Whether it's medical or fire we need to be able to cross the tracks," he said.
The meeting began with a brief presentation of a draft Environmental Impact Statement, which identified the potential for rail-related noise to be the biggest anticipated impact. But the public comment and discussion centered on capacity, congestion and emergency response times.
"It must consult the local responders in our communities in order to assess the merger's full safety impacts and that has not happened," said U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, who represents the area.
The Surface Transportation Board is expected rule on the merger by the winter time with representatives of the board saying they plan to take all public comments into consideration before submitting its final EIS report.
Like a lot of towns, trains are part of the everyday fabric of downtown Bartlett. JC's Mexican restaurant is across the street from a Metra station. And the idea of adding eight to 14 more freight trains, some up to two miles long, does not sit well with the owner.
"When the train comes by we can't take orders. It's so noisy," said owner Luz Alvarez.
"Nobody likes the merger because of the emphasis on freight as opposed to people," said Hanover Park Mayor Rod Craig.
"The length of these trains will close every intersection in town for quite some time. So getting north and south would be impossible," said Bartlett Mayor Kevin Wallace.
Experts said it's very unlikely the board will stop the merger, but communities can more realistically hope for mitigation; money to pay for solutions such as underpasses under the tracks.
"As part of the merger there could well be some accommodations to these cities rightfully concerned about the increase in tonnage," said DePaul Transportation Expert Joe Schwieterman.
Metra, who actually owns the tracks in question, also opposes the merger, because they believe the freight trains would cause more delays for their trains.