A Canadian Pacific train, also with a Kansas City Southern engine, is parked near 87th Avenue west of Ottumwa. A merger between the two railroad companies was approved by the Surface Transportation Board Tuesday, and takes effect April 14. The merger is expected to quadruple train traffic on this segment of the line between Chicago and Kansas City, Missouri.

The Surface Transportation Board has approved the merger of Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern railroads, which will gradually quadruple the amount of train traffic on the single-line track through the area by 2027.

The merger will become effective April 14, and is the first major rail merger in over 20 years.

The 212-page approval was handed down Tuesday, and one of the results of the $31 billion acquisition is the elimination of an estimated 64,000 semis from the road as the CPKC line becomes the first railroad to span Canada and Mexico.

However, traffic increases are expected, with some of the largest in the Ottumwa area. Currently, about five trains pass through every day, but that number will grow to 19 over the next four years though several infrastructure improvements are expected over that time.

“This wasn’t something the city fought, but I know there have been a lot of community concerns, especially past Blackhawk Road because of the Quincy Avenue crossing,” Ottumwa Mayor Rick Johnson said Wednesday. “So we’ve been working with the railroad to see what options we have.”

Residents have long shared concerns over blockages at the Quincy crossing that are impediments to businesses and residents on Blackhawk, but there appears to be a remedy to that based on what STB is calling “an unprecedented seven-year oversight period along with extensive data-reporting requirements.”

Under the requirements, which were contingent on STB’s approval, is a condition that will move the crew change point in Ottumwa farther down the rail line. Crew changes are frequently cited as the reason for delayed blockages at the Quincy Avenue and 87th Street crossings, though the average time for gates to be down will be reduced, according to the merger application’s environmental study.

“Applicants (CP and KCS) state that ‘there is no reason to worry’ because CPKC plans to move the crew change location from CP’s Ottumwa Yard Office to the west end of the Ottumwa siding, a location they assert will provide sufficient clearance to prevent CPKC’s southbound crew changes from interfering at the crossing,” the board said in its approval. “According to Applicants, CPKC also plans to extend the Ottumwa siding southbound by 2,000 feet (to a total of 12,000 feet), further increasing clearance for southbound trains.”

The request for the crew change requirement came from BNSF Railway, whose tracks intersect CP’s on West Second Street.

Johnson said there had been a brief discussion about putting on overpass on Quincy over the tracks, but that doesn’t seem feasible from a funding perspective or a geographical perspective because the road is short and a bridge will have to have a steep incline and decline surrounding the tracks.

Even if the railroad moves its crew changes, Johnson said there have been discussions between the railroad, the city and Wapello County about potentially paving one of the gravel roads that crosses the tracks farther west. A paved road could help emergency vehicles access the areas just outside of Ottumwa.

“The railroad has challenged us to come up with a plan and cost estimates, and I think that’s something we’d like to try to submit this spring,” Johnson said. “I think the railroad has indicated they want to be a player with us locally, because they’ve helped a lot of other communities such as Davenport and Washington (that are along the line). They have a record of helping other communities.”

Canadian Pacific touts its safety record as North America’s safest railroad 17 straight years according to train-accident data from the Federal Railroad Administration.

In a press release Wednesday announcing the merger’s approval, CP said “the transaction is also expected to drive employment growth across the CPKC system, adding over 800 new union-represented operating positions in the United States.” Last year, a CP spokesman told the Courier there would be about 40 new jobs created in the area.

Other infrastructure improvements include a new siding near Moravia and Seymour and a siding extension near Linby. Signaling also will be improved along the route to handle the heavier train traffic.

Chad Drury can be reached at cdrury@ottumwacourier.com, and on Twitter @ChadDrury


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