National and Minnesota Report

Checks & Balances has always been opposed to structural monopolies, whether they be a municipal electric utility with a franchise agreement, a cable company through a franchise agreement or a railroad. Now, with family connections into the railroad, where a great grand was a fifty-year Engineer with the DMIR and a member of the UTU for the same duration, and a step-Grandmother who walked the tracks with a green and red lantern to help move the train, to wearing a engineer’s cap at ta Duluth DFL Convention in the Depot, we have always like trains. Although we never knew about the vast amounts of politics that surround railroads and trains until far later in life.

This calls to mind the proposed merger of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) and the Kansas City Southern (KCS), now while state legislators are considering whether to resurrect the route from the Twin Cities to Duluth, which we rode on as a child, to be called the Northern Lights Express, which yearns for Congressman Jim Oberstar’s (D-MN) influence to return, as merger of these two regional entities is not it our collective interest.

We are reminded about a discussion with a past railroad man, who decried the lack of four line tracks, with two per side for routes so when one track went down the other could come into play. In order to save money and reduce maintenance railroad paired down to two tracks only. This was a cost-saving move at the expense of safety.

On December 14, 2021, Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) announced it had completed its acquisition of Kansas City Southern (KCS), a deal valued at $31 billion. If granted, the merger would become the only single-line railroad linking Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. In merging railroad assets, CP and KCS would dramatically increase traffic through several cities and towns in Minnesota, creating a host of quality of life, economic, and safety issues.

Rather than spurring economic growth, the line will bring way more rail traffic, noise pollution, traffic congestion, and potential for accidents than we have right now. Once Minneapolis residents become fully mired in the “new normal,” they will flee to quieter parts of the state and tourists will look elsewhere. The merger will not help our communities. Rather, it will hurt us.

Here is a raft of reasons to oppose this merger and resources to inform as to why.

The proposed CP-KCS merger will significantly increase the number of trains running through Minnesota, causing real harm to communities.

  • In confirming this merger, CP plans to move their American headquarters from Minneapolis to Kansas City.
    • This will take away over 200 jobs from Minnesota.
  • Each state along the line will see 20 more trains every month.
  • High railroad activity often disrupts traffic, including first responders.
    • On average, freight trains are longer than ever, posing challenges for emergency responders and other traffic.
    • The average length of a CP train in 2021 was over 1.5 miles, a figure that could increase significantly after the merger.
    • Railroads are an all-too-common obstacle for emergency workers.
  • Elevated rail traffic has detrimental health effects.
  • Railroads drive down nearby property values.
    • A residential property’s consistent exposure to 65 decibels or greater of railroad noise pollution reduces property values between 14% and 18%.
      • Freight trains emit, on average, 85 decibels of sound.

Increased railroad traffic is more likely to result in accidents and spills of potentially hazardous materials.

  • A significant amount of new railroad traffic would contain ammonia, ethanol, and other explosive materials.
    • In Minnesota in 2020, a CP train carrying crude oil derailed, spilling 20,000 to 30,000 gallons into the environment.
  • CP trains have a recent history of dangerous derailments.
  • Most of the new train cars on the rail will carry Canadian tar sands crude oil.

 Decreased competition in the railroad industry will lead to higher prices for transporting commodities in major industries.

  • Less rail-to-rail competition creates higher prices for those transporting goods.
    • In 1980, Congress passed the Staggers Rail Act, which deregulated the railroad industry. As a result, railroad companies merged unchecked, driving up the cost of transporting large quantities of commodities.
      • Despite this, rail is still the most cost-effective means to transport commodities, especially agricultural products, painting Midwest growers and farms into a corner.
    • Monopoly pricing has created significantly higher freight rail prices, which according to the STB’s own regulations, are noncompetitive and bad for the overall economy.
    • Higher prices have already hurt Midwest farmers.
  • This creates a ripple effect throughout the whole supply chain, ranging from agricultural processing to grocery stores.
    • In 2021, rail accounted for 28% of total U.S. freight, and 52% of that consisted of bulk commodities such as agriculture products, automobiles, chemicals, foodstuffs, and more.
    • In 2019, Class I railroads shipped2 million carloads of food, grain, and other farm products.

The projected increases in railroad traffic exceed the infrastructure already in place, an issue that would require significant public investment to rectify.

  • Federal discourse surrounding infrastructure investment often only includes roads and bridges rather than railroads.
    • The Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill mandated a study on the impact of excessively long trains on safety and the environment, but the study isn’t yet completed.