Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
Note: “Impact Unpacked” is a series on the findings of a draft environmental statement from regulators on the proposed merger between the Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern railways. This article is the first of the series.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) issued a draft environmental impact statement Aug. 5 on a proposed merger between railway companies Canadian Pacific (CP) and Kansas City Southern (KCS.) If carried out, the merger would create the first-ever single-line railroad linking the United States, Mexico and Canada.
The document prepared by the Office Environmental Analysis (OEA) evaluates the possible outcomes of the proposed merger and associated capital improvement projects, and weighs them against the impacts of an STB decision to deny the merger.
Regulators drew a distinction between the proposed merger’s environmental impact and its possible merits, like economic benefits.
“The Board is reviewing the Proposed Acquisition through two parallel but distinct processes,” the packet said. “(1) the transportation-related process that examines the competitive, transportation, and economic implications of the Proposed Acquisition on the national rail system, and (2) the environmental review process.”
The packet reviews a long list of affected environmental consequences. Those focus items include rail safety; crossing safety; crossing delays; traffic diversions; noise and vibration; air quality and climate change; hazardous materials, energy biological, water and cultural resources; and environmental justice.
Most (but not all) of those impact areas were classified as minor or non-concerns by the draft document.
“OEA has concluded that, apart from train noise, which could result in adverse impacts at some locations, the potential adverse impacts of the Proposed Acquisition would be negligible, minor, and/or temporary,” a summary section of the document said.
Railroad officials say they’re processing the findings of the bulky report, which comes in at 357 pages.
“CP is reviewing the Surface Transportation Board’s draft environmental impact statement,” CP Media Relations Manager Andy Cummings said in an email. “We remain committed to continuing our work with communities as we advance through this process.”
Southeast Iowa expects brunt of downsides, greatest train traffic jump
Taken in sum, the agency said the stretch of tracks through Southeast Iowa would be the most heavily impacted on most fronts by a merger, as it would see the greatest jump in train traffic over the next three years.
“The largest increase would occur on the CP mainline between Sabula, Iowa and Kansas City, Missouri, which would experience an increase of approximately 14.4 additional trains per day, on average,” one section of the report said. “Increased rail traffic has the potential to result in environmental impacts related to noise and vibration, air quality, freight and passenger rail safety, grade crossing safety and delay, passenger rail transportation, and hazardous material transportation.”
That 14.4 train-per-day average only accounts for trains expected as a result of the merger. The CP segment from Muscatine to Ottumwa — which passes through the cities of Richland, Washington, Ainsworth, Cotter, Columbus Junction, Fredonia and Letts along the way — is expected to see a 0.5 train per day uptick by 2027 regardless of the merger.
“Under the No-Action Alternative, the Board would not approve the Proposed Acquisition, and the potential impacts would not occur,” a Comparison of Alternatives section of the review said. “However, the Applicants expect that both the CP and KCS networks would experience organic growth in rail traffic under the No-Action Alternative because of changing market conditions, such as general economic growth.”
CP and KCS officials have pledged to carry out 25 capital improvement projects along the railroads in an effort to mitigate some of those drawbacks. Locally, the list includes 2.16 miles of new siding east of Washington, and siding extensions in Letts and Ottumwa that span less than a mile.
The STB has authority to impose conditions on the merger that would mitigate environmental impacts, but regulators said that authority was limited.
“Any mitigation measure the Board imposes must relate directly to the transaction before the Board, must be reasonable, and must be supported by the record before the Board,” the draft document said. “OEA’s consistent practice has been to recommend mitigation only for those impacts that would result directly from a proposed transaction.”
Further regulations, however, can come from negotiations between the board and companies. While none of those negotiations are finalized, the packet mentions several preliminary mitigation measures.
Several of those are voluntary, proposed by the applicants. That list includes things like “continue to engage in good faith with potentially affected communities along the combined network,” and “conduct Transportation Community Awareness and Emergency Response Program workshops in potentially affected communities that request this training.”
The OEA, however, has recommended a slew of its own additional measures, including “consider lubricating curves where doing so would both be consistent with safe and efficient operating practices and significantly reduce noise for residential or other noise sensitive receptors,” and “design culverts and bridges so as to maintain existing surface water drainage patterns … and not cause or exacerbate flooding.”
Report highlights some upsides, not dwelt on
The Surface Transportation Board is a nonpartisan agency, designed to regulate such mergers on the basis of public interest alone. As such, the environmental review process focuses largely on negative impacts, rather than positives.
That said, the packet did acknowledge possible upsides of a merger pitched by its proponents.
“Applicants state that the Proposed Acquisition would further the need for expanded and more capable and efficient transportation infrastructure while simultaneously advancing the interests of current and future customers in more reliable and economical rail transportation,” the packet said. “Applicants also state that the Proposed Acquisition would generate environmental benefits by reducing truck transportation on highways … resulting in less congestion, less maintenance, and improved safety on those roads.”
Chief among those upsides, perhaps, is the merger’s effect on roadway traffic.
Applicants said they expected to take 64,000 trucks off the highways across the continent every year, as shippers could exploit railroads for cross-country freight. It’s an assessment regulators largely agree with.
“The Proposed Acquisition would result in the diversion of trucks from the highway network system, which could provide some benefits to the highway system,” the review said. “Because the Proposed Acquisition would not result in any adverse impacts to traffic and roadway systems as a result of truck-to-rail diversions, OEA is not recommending any mitigation related to traffic and roadway systems.”
STB requests public comments
The Surface Transportation Board has called on any stakeholders to participate in public comments on the merger, each of which must be reviewed and responded to before approving a merger between the railroad companies. Stakeholders will have opportunities to comment in-person or online before the Sept. 26 deadline, but only on issues of environmental impacts.
“OEA’s public meetings on the Draft EIS will cover only the environmental issues raised in the case,” the board said in a news release. “The Board will hold a separate public hearing on Sept. 28, 29, and 30, 2022, at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. to hear comments on the merits of the proposed merger.”
Those interested can comment online at the STB website. The proposed merger’s docket number is FD 36500. The board will also hold in-person meetings for feedback on the environmental review, the closest of which will be in Davenport, Iowa Sept. 13. The board will also host online meetings for verbal comments Sept. 7, 8, and 19.