DOUBLE-STACK RAIL TUNNEL LINKING CANADA, US CLEARS ITS LAST HURDLE

DOUBLE-STACK RAIL TUNNEL LINKING CANADA, US CLEARS ITS LAST HURDLE

The Interstate Commerce Commission said it doesn't have jurisdiction to rule on the merits of CN North America's plan to build the first double-stack rail tunnel linking the U.S. and Canada, clearing away the last significant hurdle in the project's path.

By a 4-1 vote, the commission said it decided to grant a request by Canadian National Railway Co., the parent of CN North America, to dismiss pleas by Canadian Pacific Ltd., the city of Detroit and various U.S. port interests to assert its authority over the $157 million project, which would enable CN's double-stack trains to operate between Port Huron, Mich. and Sarnia, Ont.The lone dissenter, J.J. Simmons III, vice chairman, said the agency does have jurisdiction.

The ICC did not explain the motives behind its decision, saying a more detailed ruling would be issued shortly. President Clinton already has approved the project, and six Cabinet-level agencies have raised no objections to it.

If the agency claimed jurisdiction, CN would have been forced to obtain both economic and environmental approvals before going ahead with work on the U.S. side. Environmental assessments, which can take up to two years to finish, could have forced CN to push back the tunnel's scheduled December 1994 launch date. It already has begun the tunnel-boring process on the Canadian side.

"The tunnel will enhance trade between the two countries and boost the economy of Michigan, including Detroit," said Gloria Combe, CN's manager for U.S. public affairs in Detroit.

Ms. Combe said CN expects a "considerable" increase in traffic when the tunnel goes into service late next year.