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The three smallest Mississippi River communities in the Iowa Quad Cities area received a bit of a reprieve last week. The Surface Transportation Board (STB), the American regulator for railroads, delayed by at least a month its expected Jan. 19 decision on the proposed $31 billion merger between Midwest railway giants Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern. Federal law prohibits the STB from voting on the matter until 30 days after their final environmental impact statement is published in the Federal Register. That statement on the merger’s expected tripling of daily train traffic by 2027 is not expected now until Friday, Feb. 3, at the earliest. The City of Camanche and its even tinier neighbor to the south, Princeton, have each publicly opposed the merger. Both communities, for example, turned down settlements from the railroads in exchange for their silence despite larger neighboring cities accepting funds to help cover some of the cost of safety improvements at train crossings. Meanwhile, Buffalo has been in discussions with CP over similar possible mitigation efforts – with train traffic expected to increase from seven to eight to 21 per day -- but has yet to consider any settlement proposals. Princeton Mayor Kevin Kernan hopes the delayed environmental impact study is a good sign for his town and their cause. “Hopefully, they pay attention to residents who are opposed,” Mr. Kernan said in a weekend email to the QCBJ. Between July and September 2022, the four largest Mississippi riverfront cities in the area all agreed to settlements with the railroad. Davenport ($10 million), Bettendorf ($3 million), Muscatine ($3 million) and LeClaire ($750,000) are scheduled to receive those improvement funds 90 days after the STB approves the merger. Camanche, a town of 4,579 residents just south of Clinton, turned down a $200,000 settlement offer from CP in August. Just north of LeClaire, Princeton and its 920 citizens declined a $100,000 offer in October. Mr. Kernan reported that since that decision, CP returned to Princeton to offer $50,000 to close one of the crossings in town – which the city also rejected. Efforts by the QCBJ to reach Camanche Mayor Austin Pruett for a similar update went unanswered. Buffalo Mayor Sally Rodriguez also failed to respond to both texts and emails from the QCBJ seeking an update for her town of 1,173 residents located between Davenport and Muscatine. However, in a late October conversation with the QCBJ, Ms. Rodriguez noted the uniqueness of Buffalo’s situation. Unlike Princeton or Camanche, she said, the trains do not roll through the middle of town -- with the tracks to the south, between Highway 22 and the river. “We don't have a lot of residents that live south of the tracks,” Ms. Rodriguez said, pointing only to a small residential area near the beaches of Buffalo Shores Park. “We don’t have a lot of businesses below the tracks, either. Where there are crossings, there's either the beach or some private companies or city services,” she added. “For instance, we have our sewer plant south of the tracks off of (Highway) 22. We've got a private barge company. We've got a boat ramp and then there's a crossing for Buffalo Shores.” The mayor said that the same as every other community affected, Buffalo’s greatest concern is trains limiting access to the other side of the tracks in case of emergency. “So, that affects us most when we have things on the beach -- which we're trying to promote more to get more folks to come to Buffalo to enjoy,” she said, pointing to potential emergencies at events. “We also worry during a flood how increased train traffic would affect our sandbag walls for our residents and our businesses.” CP has sent representatives to Buffalo multiple times to offer suggestions and consider options, she said. “But we're not in the same boat as some others where a stoppage or derailment is cutting off a lot of people,” Ms. Rodriguez said. “The damage from a derailment and the materials they are hauling is a bigger worry.” Released in August, the environmental draft summary concluded the merger would cause few if any adverse impacts aside from increased train noise in some locations. The chief worries cited by local officials – an impact on emergency response times and increased chances of train derailments – also were said to be “negligible, minor, and/or temporary” by the draft summary. However, the draft summary recommended the railroad work with affected communities for grade crossing and other improvements rather than the STB make that a condition for approval. Trains magazine reported last week that a CP official told an investor conference on Thursday, Jan. 19, that he was “very optimistic” about STB approval and expected CP to take control of KCS by March 31. Shareholders for both companies already have greenlighted the move. Merging CP’s 15,000 miles of tracks with 7,300 in the KCS network will create the first railroad company – to be named CPKC -- directly linking Canada, Mexico and the United States through a north-south corridor through the American heartland. In hearings last fall both locally and nationally, the five-member STB heard feedback from big cities and small towns alike, as well as rival railways, shipping companies and members of Congress. The proposed merger also comes at the same time the national government is considering ways to address current problems with the freight rail system. Legislators at both the federal and state level also have voiced renewed concerns about the lengths of the trains – stretching to two and three miles long. That is especially problematic where the train tracks are barely a mile long bisecting through small towns such as Camanche and Princeton. Each train creates a rolling wall cutting the town in two – and any stoppage or derailment traps residents between the tracks and the river. “From an emergency standpoint of getting across the tracks – it’s a big deal,” Mr. Kernan said of any legislation limiting the length of trains. “Also, in the event of a derailment, (a longer train) can tie up crossing for longer periods of time.”