Railroad merger report predicts more noise, minor safety impact

A new report predicts the proposed merger of the Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern railroads would have only minor impacts to rail and traffic safety, but that an increase in noise would be “unavoidable,” with some of the most significant impacts centered in the Quad-Cities.

A draft environmental impact statement authored by the federal Surface Transportation Board’s Office of Environmental Analysis (OEA) was released last Friday, Aug. 5, a key step in the board’s consideration of the $31 billion deal that would mean a tripling of train traffic through the Quad-Cities.

The merger proposal, which was announced last year, would create the first single-line railroad linking the U.S., Mexico and Canada and would have economic and environmental benefits, the railroads have said.

The proposal, however, has drawn widespread concern and criticism among communities located along the railroad’s path, including in the Quad-Cities, as city officials, residents and businesses have worried about a range of potential impacts.

The 357-page report predicted only minor impacts when it came to rail and vehicle safety and the potential of releases of hazardous materials. It also raised the prospect of an actual decline in air pollutant emissions. But it said there would be an unavoidable increase in noise, which is one of the key concerns in the Quad-Cities.

The report said OEA doesn’t expect noise to be substantially louder than it is now or that it would be audible in more places, but that it will be more frequent.

“The OEA is saying this is not a good thing,” Kevin Kernan, the mayor of Princeton, Iowa, and an opponent of the merger, said Monday, Aug. 8. “They’re acknowledging that it’s going to be loud.”

The OEA said a computer model identified 6,307 receptors in 27 counties in five states that would experience adverse noise impacts. Scott, Clinton and Muscatine counties are home to more of those adversely affected receptors than any other county, the report said.

In Scott County, a total of 1,016 receptors would experience adverse noise impacts, up from 593 if the merger isn’t approved. In Clinton County, 590 receptors would experience a negative impact, up from 373. In Muscatine County, it would be 675, up from 294.

An adverse noise reaction would occur when there is an increase of three A-weighted decibels or more as a result of increased rail traffic and that reach “a day-night average noise level” of 65 dBA or higher.

The report said there were actions that could be taken to mitigate the noise, including those that have been voluntarily proposed by the railroads, but it added that, even if the board imposes these mitigation measures, “OEA expects that the Proposed Acquisition would result in unavoidable adverse noise impacts.”

Canadian Pacific has been in talks with cities in this area, and the railroad has agreed to make payments that officials say are aimed at limiting the impact. The City of Bettendorf has already approved a $3 million deal that would include the establishment of quiet zones, where trains would generally not sound their horns.

The Davenport City Council is expected to consider a proposed deal with the railroad on Wednesday, Aug. 10,  for $10 million, including $2 million for expenditures near the water pollution control plant in the southwest part of the city. City officials say that establishing quiet zones is being contemplated in Davenport, too.

The Muscatine City Council narrowly approved a $3 million settlement with Canadian Pacific last week.

Andy Cummings, a spokesman for Canadian Pacific, said in an email Tuesday, Aug. 9, that “CP is reviewing the Surface Transportation Board’s draft environmental impact statement. We remain committed to continuing our work with communities as we advance through this process.”

The OEA predicted only minor adverse impact to freight rail safety from the merger. The report predicted the greatest impact would be between Muscatine and Ottumwa, Iowa, where it projected there would be an increase of about 0.32 incidents per year, such as a derailment or other accidents. That would be an increase from 0.11 incidents per year to 0.43 annual incidents.

It also noted that other rail lines in the combined system would experience smaller increases in the number of incidents.

The OEA said it expects most instances would be minor and wouldn’t result in any injuries or fatalities, and that any potential increase would be partially or entirely offset by a decrease in accidents on other rail lines and on highways. 

It also predicted the impact to passenger rail safety would be negligible, and that hazardous materials releases would “remain low” if the merger is approved. It predicted 12.88 hazardous material releases per year under the proposed acquisition, compared with 10.36 if the merger isn’t approved.

The OEA also predicted that at the 1,134 grade crossings it evaluated there would be only “minor adverse impacts” on safety. It predicted the number of train-vehicle crashes would be 24.9 per year under the proposed acquisition, compared with 19.1 if no action were taken. Train-pedestrian accidents would only increase to 2.2 per year, up from 1.7 if no action is taken.

In terms of grade crossing delays, the OEA predicted there would be only a “minor impact” on providing emergency services, which also has been a key concern in communities. On average, the OEA said, delays along emergency routes would amount to 3.9 seconds per vehicle, compared with 2.9 seconds if there would be no merger.

The OEA also said that delays to vehicle traffic at grade crossings would be minor. It projected that across the 277 grade crossings with an average annual daily traffic of 2,500 or more vehicles per day, the merger would mean only an additional delay of 0.7 seconds per vehicle. The greatest average increase, though, would be at Ripley Street in Davenport, where the average delay per vehicle would be 7.3 seconds.

Accessibility to the riverfront has been a key concern among some officials in the Quad-Cities. And Kyle Carter, executive director of the Downtown Davenport Partnership, said Monday, Aug. 8, that an average delay of seven seconds per vehicle shouldn’t be dismissed, given the number of vehicles affected. “That adds up,” he said.

The report “says what we expected it to – that (the merger) would significantly affect our area,” Carter added.

The OEA also considered whether the proposed impacts from the merger would be borne by what the report called environmental justice populations, including minorities and low-income people. However, the office said “OEA has concluded that the Proposed Acquisition would not result in any environmental impacts that would be high and adverse with the exception of noise impacts associated with the projected increase in rail traffic on certain rail line segments.” However, it said the impact of the noise would not be “disproportionately borne” by environmental justice populations.

The report also predicted that the acquisition would not result in an overall increase in air pollutant emissions, and that it could actually mean a decrease due to the “expected diversion of freight from truck to rail transportation, and the resulting removal of approximately 64,000 trucks per year from highways.”

It added that the projected increase in rail traffic “would not adversely affect plants, fish, or habitat.”

Public meetings set

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the proposed merger now will undergo a 45-day comment period. The deadline for comments is Sept. 26. 

The board’s Office of Environmental Analysis also is holding four in-person public meetings, including one on Sept. 13 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the RiverCenter in Davenport.

Three online public meetings will be held on Sept. 7 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.; Sept. 8 from noon to 2 p.m.; and Sept. 19 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. To register for the online public meeting, visit www.cp-kcsmergereis.com

Comments also may be submitted electronically by going to the Surface Transportation Board’s website, at Surface Transportation Board (stb.gov).

Mailed comments should be sent to: Joshua Wayland, Office of Environmental Analysis, Surface Transportation Board. Environmental Filing, Docket No. FD36500 c/o VHB. 940 Main Campus Drive, Suite 500. Raleigh, NC 27606.

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