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'They attempted to buy our silence' | Camanche city official disappointed with approval of Canadian Pacific, Kansas City Southern merger

The Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern merger is the first major rail merger to be approved in more than two decades.

CAMANCHE, Iowa — The U.S. Surface Transportation Board on Wednesday approved the merger between the Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern railroads. Canadian Pacific's $31 billion acquisition of Kansas City Southern is the first major railroad merger to go forward in more than two decades.

The merger is expected to triple train traffic in the Quad Cities and surrounding areas, which has raised concerns for many about blocked crossings and excess noise.

One city that has been vocal in its opposition to the merger is Camanche. Last year, the city rejected settlement money offered to it by Canadian Pacific.  The city was offered $200,000 to close two of its seven crossings, and $300,000 if it closed three. The city countered, asking for $2.5 million. 

"We weren't listened to," said City Administrator Andrew Kida. "They attempted to buy us off. They attempted to buy our silence. And that didn't happen."

Kida said he wasn't surprised when he saw the merger was approved. He anticipated it would be.

"Public safety is the foundation of city government," he said. "In this case, public safety is our primary interest, the ability to provide emergency services to people that are in this community... In this situation, there will quite probably be opportunities for us to not get them the services that they need. In fact, it's services that they need to live. And that's problematic for us."

In Camanche, there's a span of one mile in which there are seven crossings. According to the city, there are 409 households along that one-mile span to the east of the tracks and to the west of the Mississippi River. When a train is blocking the crossings, it's also blocking those residents' access to the rest of the town. The city estimates approximately 1,200 people live in those homes.

In the final Environmental Impact Statement that was released about a month and a half ago, the Office of Environmental Analysis found that most of the potential adverse impacts of the merger would be "negligible, minor, and/or temporary." That includes impacts on grade crossing delays and emergency vehicles. However, it did find that train noise associated with increased rail traffic "would result in adverse impacts on many residences and other locations that are sensitive to noise." 

"That's what their computer models will tell you. Being here, and witnessing is something different," Kida said. "In the state of Iowa alone, 30% of the crossings that they pointed out as being a problem are in Camanche."

Kida said the city has already enacted an ordinance under Iowa Code 364.8 to require an overpass be put in.

"We expect our state representatives, our state elected officials to back us on enforcing Iowa state code," he said. "Our obligation would be to pay for any damage to property that would be necessary to put in an overpass, and we're prepared to do that. The railroad's obligation will be to pay for the overpass. So that's what we'll do."

The city hasn't decided where the overpass will go. Kida said they will look at data to determine where will have the least amount of impact to residents and to personal property.

The Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern merger will create the only railroad linking Canada, Mexico and the United States. The U.S. Surface Transportation Board said the combined company is expected to add more than 800 new union jobs in the U.S.

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