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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

'TRACS' Act enters House, targets CN/EJ&E transaction

Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) and 20 other representatives recently introduced the Taking Responsible Action for Community Safety, or TRACS, Act (H.R. 6707), which would require the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to consider rail expansion projects' effects on local communities.

The bill would give the board authority over any transaction involving at least one Class I and mandate that the STB consider all safety and environmental effects, including public, grade crossing and hazardous materials transportation safety; emergency response time; noise; and impacts on intercity passenger and commuter rail. If the adverse effects outweigh proposed benefits, the STB would be required to mitigate the effects or reject the transaction.

The board currently oversees any proposed merger or transfer of control of two major railroads to analyze potential anti-competitive and worker safety issues.

The TRACS Act also targets Canadian National Railway Co.'s proposed acquisition of a major portion of the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway Co., according to the bill's 20 co-sponsors, who oppose the transaction.

Although the STB's recent draft Environmental Impact Statement on the CN/EJ&E transaction validates many safety, quality-of-life and economic hazards, the board currently is not mandated to "consider those very factors when they make their approval or mitigation decision," said Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.), who co-sponsored the bill. "This legislation will require them to do just that."

Adds Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), another co-sponsor: "A rail company shouldn't be able to unilaterally move into a community, jeopardize residents' safety and quality of life, then shoulder taxpayers with the costs of mitigating the impact. This isn't just about one merger, it about protecting the basic rights of every community that contains a railway."

Oberstar plans to conduct hearings and a markup on the bill when Congress returns from recess next month.

More than 150 transportation experts, businesses, governmental and environmental leaders, community groups and business organizations have expressed strong support for the transaction, and CN has been "forthright and responsive" in working with communities to resolve concerns, CN officials said in a statement released yesterday. If the transaction is approved by the STB, more than 60 communities would experience rail congestion relief — roughly two times the number that would see increased rail traffic, they said.

The Class I "welcomes a realistic, productive dialogue with any individual or organization with a stake in the EJ&E transaction," CN officials said. "Such engagements are best for all parties affected by the proposed transaction and will yield the most productive outcomes."

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More News from 8/6/2008