Train traffic concerns rise with pending merger

·3 min read

Jun. 22—Trisha Rea isn't on a quest per se.

But she knows what's coming down the pike, er, railroad track.

Rea is like many Ottumwa residents who are concerned about the effects the potential Canadian Pacific-Kansas City Southern merger, likely to be completed in the fourth quarter of this year, will have on the community. The proposed $31 billion merger will allow goods to move by rail from Canada to Mexico, becoming the first U.S. railroad to do so.

And while that's all well and good from a rail perspective, Rea has reservations, especially considering the traffic increases soon to follow over Ottumwa's CP crossings at Quincy Avenue and 87th Street.

"It's just going to make it unbearable," she said. "We're going to have to do something."

The numbers game

CP trains have always created a conundrum of wait times for travelers on Quincy Avenue, Blackhawk Road and other locales in that area.

And that's just with four trains — two each way — per day. Wait times can be lengthy, and city and county officials have discussed the issue with CP officials in the past.

For a while, those conversations worked, Rea said.

"Honestly, I think they just moved the trains on down," she said. "So they weren't blocking Quincy. They just blocked (87th Street). I don't know why they don't continue to do that. It was great for quite a few months, and then it just gradually got a lot worse and worse."

By 2027, Ottumwa is expected to see about 18 CP trains per day. The section of track along the Mississippi River, through Ottumwa and to Kansas City is about to become a major hub for goods coming from both eastern and western Canada.

The increase of about 14 trains per day would make it the second-highest on any CP line in the country, but the merger is also expected to create about 40 jobs in the area.

'We want to keep these trains in motion'

CP media relations manager Andy Cummings has fielded numerous calls and emails about the blocked crossings in Ottumwa, but he insists that isn't the goal of the railroad company, and certainly won't be when the train count starts to increase.

"We see a lot of public benefits. There's a benefit for taxpayers because we maintain our own rails and ties with the money we earn hauling freight. There's an environmental benefit," he said. "We understand that some individual communities will be affected, so if communities have concerns, we certainly want them to come to us and we want to talk about that.

"But I also think it's important to keep in mind that to the extent possible, we want to keep these trains in motion," he said. "So if you think about a 10,000-foot freight train moving at 40 mph, they're going to pass through any given grade crossing in about three minutes. I don't want to downplay it, but we very much have an incentive to keep those trains moving and to move them as efficiently as we can."

Cummings said CP's goal is to establish more markets, and "offering shippers destinations that we can't offer today," primarily on the way to Kansas City and points south. Ottumwa will still remain a crew change point on CP's line, but he believes more trains will be passing through than not.

"With the merger, companies are anticipating being able to have trains go to places like the Great Lakes. Those cars are coming from the south and going north, and vice versa," he said. "They're not for local industries, so we don't see an increase in setting out or picking up of rail cars. We anticipate those moving through. The crew changes are something we try to do very quickly."