116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Late last year, Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern announced their intent to merge, creating the first single-line railroad between Canada and Mexico. In their filing with the Surface Transportation Board, those companies cited several reasons for the necessity of this $31 billion move, which will triple train traffic through eastern and southern Iowa. Now, as the Surface Transportation Board reviews the environmental, safety, and financial implications of the merger, it’s more important than ever that we safeguard our communities from the harm more traffic can cause.
When train traffic increases threefold in the Quad Cities, as it will in other places, our residents will be cut off from several riverside projects. In Bettendorf, we have invested in housing development, recreational opportunities, and commercial spaces to make our waterfront more appealing. From Dubuque to Ottumwa, Iowa municipalities have invested millions of dollars into improving their constituents’ quality of life.
Another sore spot is the environmental effects. The Mississippi River is a national treasure, supporting a vitally important ecosystem. Considering most of the new cargo passing through our towns will be crude oil from Canada on its way to the Gulf of Mexico, many are worried about potential accidents. An oil spill on the banks of the Mississippi River would devastate a source of tourism, commerce, and life.
Upon passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act last year, the Biden administration ordered the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to study the effect of frequent train traffic and increasing train length on the environment and public safety. Not only is this research yet to be completed, but the federal government hasn’t even begun the study.
The companies involved in this merger are far from done answering Iowa’s, and the Surface Transportation Board’s, questions. Recently, the Surface Transportation Board found errors in the traffic data Canadian Pacific submitted. Cities up and down the line had been operating under the assumption traffic would triple by 2027. Instead of using a “normal” time frame to extrapolate the increase, the companies used low points, potentially depressing the true anticipated hike in rail transit.
For many towns looking to financially offset these concerns, options are scarce. Many will point to federal grant money that’s available for quiet zones, grade separations, and other mitigation measures. Such financing can be difficult to secure and doesn’t always consider what’s best for communities.
Transporting goods over railroads is often cheaper and easier than other methods. But, this deal would even further consolidate an industry that has fielded antitrust complaints for decades. As the Surface Transportation Board solicits public comments under docket number “FD36500,” we must ensure this point isn’t lost.
Iowa’s elected officials must protect their constituents from quality-of-life concerns. Although it’s unclear how the Surface Transportation Board will respond to these concerns, open discussion is the best way to clarify them.
Bob Gallagher is mayor of Bettendorf.