CN Makes Progress on Chicago Short Line

CN Makes Progress on Chicago Short Line

Canadian National Railway told regulators it made more progress last month in trimming the number of street-clogging train incidents on the Chicago-area short line tracks it recently acquired.

But CN was aided by something railroads don’t usually want – falling traffic volume amid the continuing slump in freight demand.

In CN’s third monthly report on how well it is absorbing the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway, the Class I carrier told the Surface Transportation Board it had just 11 incidents in which trains blocked roadways for at least 10 minutes.

That is down from 14 incidents in April, and 50 in March when it first took over the short line that arcs westward around Chicago through Illinois and Indiana suburbs.

The duration of those blockages also generally declined, CN reported. During its first month of owning EJ&E, it had several instances in which trains stalled area roadway traffic for hours. In April only two lasted about an hour or longer. For May, CN reported just one.

That one example, though, underscores the task of managing train operations on the short line. CN’s success could help the carrier dissipate some opposition from suburbs, some of which are still contesting its acquisition at the STB and in federal appeals court. So it reports a corrective action taken for every reported blockage.

CN said a train that stretched more than a mile long with 106 loaded railcars blocked a road at Joliet, Ill., for an hour, after stalling on an uphill climb as it headed out of town. Helper locomotive power was sent, but it was blocked for 35 minutes “due to another train in emergency” on the Metra commuter system. After all that, CN said it modified the power assignment plan to correct the problem.

Karen B. Phillips, CN’s vice president for North American government affairs in Washington, D.C., told the STB that “economic conditions have resulted in a considerable decline in traffic volumes from EJ&E customers.” So CN has set local train switching operations around a schedule that reflects the lower volume, she said, and that “has been well received by customers.”

Meanwhile, the Class I carrier has not moved any more of its trains from central-Chicago routes to EJ&E tracks, besides the single daily northbound and southbound trains it shifted to the short line in March, Phillips said in her June 10 report.

She said railroad staff has been meeting with shippers along the short line to discuss their needs, explain CN’s procedures and prepare them for a July 1 change to a new electronic operating system that can manage their car ordering and provide car tracing.

Following up on some STB-mandated mitigation measures, Phillips also said CN made safety presentations at several area schools, and had posted 225 “no trespassing” signs on EJ&E property from Gary, Ind., to West Chicago, Ill.

Contact John D. Boyd at jboyd@joc.com.