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The merger of Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern will reduce — not increase — the risk of dangerous hazardous material spills, Surface Transportation Board Chairman Martin Oberman said yesterday at a press conference announcing the board’s decision to approve the Class Is’ combination.
Oberman said the STB is aware of the recent elevated level of public concern stemming from the Norfolk Southern Railway train derailment last month in East Palestine, Ohio. Since that derailment occurred, political and community leaders have asked the STB to pause the CP-KCS merger decision out of a concern that increased freight-rail traffic growth stemming from the merger would increase the risk of more hazmat train derailments.
"We are well aware of the very real and legitimate public concern over rail safety," Oberman said. "And we’ve heard from many people — members of Congress, concerned citizens and people fearful for their own neighborhoods. In fact, it is a routine part of the board’s consideration of railroad acquisitions to review safety of the transaction."
The board’s review of the safety implications of the CP-KCS merger were well underway when the NS derailment occurred. However, if there’s a problem with the safe transportation of hazardous materials across the country, "it is not a problem of this merger," Oberman said.
"The Bureau of Transportation Statistics documented last year that 94% of all hazardous materials spills occurred on truck and only 1% occurred on rail," he said. "So if you were trying to make sure communities all over the country are safer, you would want to move more of this material by train rather than by truck. And we have to be realistic when we talk about what are these hazardous materials: Many of them are the foundation of our economy."
In its decision, the STB noted that over the past 15 years, CP has had the "best safety record of any Class I," board officials said in a press release.
Based on information in the final environmental impact statement related to the merger petition, on average for CP and KCS, there has been only one hazardous material release for every 37.8 million miles that a car carrying hazardous materials traveled — a rate of 0.0261 hazardous material releases per million hazardous material car miles on mainline tracks, they said.
At that rate, for example, the eight additional trains the merger is expected to bring through the Chicago metropolitan area are statistically projected to increase the number of hazardous releases by only .008 per year— that amounts to one additional release every 125 years, STB officials said. During the years 2015 to 2019, CP, which annually carried 11.9 million car miles of hazardous materials freight through the Chicago area, caused one hazmat spill on mainline tracks. That incident involved a locomotive that one time leaked 10 gallons of diesel fuel in 2016.
"That is a record which cannot be matched by trucks or, in fact, any other railroad. Thus, any rail traffic diverted to CPKC from other railroads will mean traffic likely moving to a railroad with a better safety record," STB officials said.