March 22, 2023

After Norfolk Southern Derailment, Duckworth Questions Rail Safety in Illinois Amid Merger of Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) today pushed National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chair Jennifer Homendy for answers about the safety and other impacts Illinoisans will see as a result of the recently-approved Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern rail merger, which the Senator vehemently opposed. In the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing, Chair Homendy acknowledged that longer freight trains, as well as high tonnage, can pose safety risks. Today’s hearing on rail safety comes in the wake of the Norfolk Southern derailment that resulted in toxic chemicals being released in East Palestine, Ohio. Video from today’s hearing is available here.

“Over my objection, as well as that of Senator Durbin and others among the Illinois Congressional delegation, the Surface Transportation Board recently approved a merger of Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern,” Duckworth said. “Can you explain the safety risks that could arise if a rail company injected more and longer freight trains—some of which may be carrying hazardous materials—into an already crowded rail corridor through a densely populated area?”

Last week the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB) allowed Canadian Pacific to acquire Kansas City Southern, a merger that will have a dramatic effect on noise, emergency response time, commuter rail operations, safety and the environment of Chicagoland communities. Duckworth, along with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and members of the Illinois Congressional Delegation, have continued to express their opposition to the merger, including advising against the merger in the wake of the Norfolk Southern derailment, until STB completed a review of the increased traffic of hazardous materials that would result from the merger.

During today’s hearing, Duckworth also questioned Homendy on how the bipartisan Railway Safety Act would benefit Illinois, as the Chicago region has one of the largest freight rail networks in the country with 3,865 track-miles of rail—nearly 1,400 of which is shared by passenger trains. This legislation would require the U.S. Department of Transportation to issues new regulations to help prevent trains carrying hazardous materials from blocking crossing due to railroad delays. Illinois passed a law in 1999 to limit blocked rail crossings, but the law was overturned in 2008 by a state Supreme Court decision due to federal preemption.

“The Chicago region’s freight rail network is enormous…we see 1,300 trains a day moving through the Chicago area, which is one of the most densely populated in the country,” Duckworth said. “To say rail safety is important to our state would be an understatement. Over the past decade, there have been at least 272 hazardous materials incidents involving trains in 70 Illinois communities. Last year, Illinois was tied for the third highest total of hazardous material incidents in the nation. The bottom line is that what happened in East Palestine could just as easily have happened in Illinois.”