Whether Canadian National Railway succeeds in overcoming opposition from southwest and western suburbs and eventually purchases the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway could well depend on who has the better public relations machine.
The press releases have been flying fast and furious from all corners. I received two within the past couple of days regarding a piece of legislation winding its way through the U.S. House of Representatives. House Bill 6707 would restrict railroad deals like the proposed CN/EJ&E merger.
U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert, R-13th District, of Hinsdale co-sponsored the bill, which would compel the federal Surface Transportation Board “to weigh the public costs a merger would have against the transportation benefits. For a merger to proceed, the adverse impacts on communities could not outweigh the transportation benefits. The STB also would have the authority to set stricter mitigation conditions on a merger.”
Here is what Biggert had to say this week:
“Congress may have a lot on its plate right now, but this issue is far too important to let it fall by the wayside. I’m very grateful for all the hard work that Chairman Oberstar and the other members of our bipartisan coalition are doing to keep this legislation moving.
“I think the testimony we gave before the committee really opened their eyes to how patently unfair the current regulatory process can be. Once they heard what CN is trying to do to our communities in Illinois, I think members from both sides realized that it could happen in their districts too. There is just no excuse not to have some basic fairness built into the law to protect the public interest — that’s what laws are for.
“My colleagues and I will continue to use every tool in our arsenal to protect local communities and keep the pressure on the STB to address our concerns. The safety, quality of life and tax dollars of suburban residents shouldn’t have to be sacrificed to advance CN’s corporate interests. I call on House leaders to quickly schedule this bill for a vote on the House floor so that we can send it to the Senate for consideration.”
But Biggert’s certainly is not the only voice on this issue. Here is what Karen Phillips, vice president of North American government affairs for CN, had to say about the bill:
“Relieving rail congestion and making the United States’ rail system more efficient must be a national priority.
“The process for the Surface Transportation Board’s consideration of the environmental impacts — both positive and negative — of proposed rail mergers should be structured and balanced. The review process for CN’s proposed acquisition of portions of the EJ&E railway has been far more concerned about negative impacts, compared to the positive benefits for many Chicago neighborhoods and suburbs. In addition, the review process must provide more predictability and early confirm at ion of minor transactions, so that all parties can work toward reasonable mitigation.
“CN believes the review process should not be applied retroactively, as provided in (HB 6707). Already, the review process for the CN-EJ&E transaction has gone far longer than the 180-day review process required by statute for a minor transaction. This process, now a yearlong, has included ample time and input from all communities along the EJ&E and received exhaustive study by transportation experts overseen by the STB.”
Who’s right? And more importantly, who’s going to prevail?
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