First posted 12/26/2008 10:21 a.m.

The Surface Transportation Board (STB) gave long-suffering near west suburbs the gift they were hoping for Christmas Eve, unanimously approving the Canadian National Railway’s application to acquire control of the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway Company (EJ&E).

In announcing the approval, STB Chairman Charles D. Nottingham called the decision “a significant step forward in our nation’s efforts to alleviate rail and highway congestion.”

“I am pleased that the board agreed, in a bipartisan and unanimous manner, after an unprecedented public involvement process, to grant the relief that this merger will provide to the many Chicago neighborhoods that have been disproportionately burdened for many decades with severe rail traffic-related roadway congestion,” he said.

Oak Park officials were unavailable to comment due to the proximity to Christmas.

The proposed sale had been met with intense opposition from numerous outlying suburbs in a wide arc from northwest Barrington to far south Moken. Those suburbs can expect to see significantly increased grade rail crossing traffic and related vehicular traffic delays.

The STB held 22 public meetings over an eight-month period in the Chicago area. A Draft Environment Impact Statement (DEIS) was issued and widely circulated in that region, and the board received more than 9,500 public comments in response to the DEIS. A Final Environmental Impact Statement was issued on Dec. 5.

The approval is subject to a number of STB-imposed conditions, including “substantial environmental mitigation” designed to minimize potential adverse environmental impacts of the transaction.

They include:

  • Two highway-rail grade separation projects (and requires applicants to bear 67 percent of the cost of one and 78.5 percent of the cost of the other)
  • Cameras to monitor highway-rail crossings to assist in the timely response of emergency providers
  • School and pedestrian safety measures
  • Noise reduction measures
  • A five-year environmental reporting requirement mandating applicants to file quarterly reports on the implementation of the board-imposed environmental mitigation.

In addition, the board imposed a 5-year, formal oversight period, with applicants required to submit monthly operational reports to the board.

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