Dubuque waits, prepares for train merger decision

The final environmental impact report was issued at the end of January and officials can make a decision as early as thirty days afterward.
Published: Feb. 20, 2023 at 10:12 PM CST
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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG) - Federal officials could announce whether or not a train merger that would impact Dubuque has been approved by the end of this month.

The Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) from the Surface Transportation Board (STB) was issued at the end of January, and multiple reports say officials can make a decision as soon as 30 days afterward.

According to the EIS, the merger between Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern would likely increase train traffic through Dubuque.

“The Applicants expect that the Proposed Acquisition would create new operational efficiencies and would divert freight from other railroads and from trucks. As a result, rail traffic would increase on some rail lines in the combined CPKC rail network."

"Canadian Pacific Acquisition of Kansas City Southern," Final Environmental Impact Statement

The wait for the decision overlaps with the news of the recent toxic derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

“Train wrecks are kind of a nightmare for me. It’s not the most fun work. In fact, it’s the worst,” said Scott Gritters with the Department of Natural Resources. As a DNR biologist, Gritters responds to derailments to evaluate their impact on natural resources.

“I don’t know how to describe it,” said Gritters. “It looks like a giant boy got tired of his train set and started throwing them around.”

He believes with increased train traffic due to the proposed merger between Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern, there is an increased chance for derailments.

“They very rarely derail, very rarely, but the more you put on, odds go up. And, you know, we we see what happened in Ohio,” said Gritters.

According to the merger application filed by Canadian Pacific, the deal would mean about $12 million in improvements for the Dubuque-Green Island section of track alone, and over $276 million put toward improvements overall. The improvements would all be to “stay a step ahead of anticipated traffic growth.” (Table of Planned Infrastructure Improvements can be found on Page 898/4342).

The companies aren’t the only ones thinking ahead.

Monday night, the Dubuque Fire Department hosted tours of its new mobile HAZMAT unit. Captain Nick Esch with the Department said that, with the new unit, train derailments are one of “the things that we are preparing for.” The new unit replaces one that had been 20 years old.

“There’s always that fear,” said Esch. “We have two rails that run through Dubuque County, and we have multiple highways, barges and we have potential everywhere, right?”

Again, train derailments are rare, but according to Gritters, even one has an irrevocable impact on the environment where it happens. When TV9 asked if an area could ever be made whole again after a spill, he simply said, “No.”