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Opinion: Increased railroad traffic will hamper supply chain, public safety

  

For most, railroad traffic is only truly bothersome when there is somewhere to be. We have all felt the frustration of seemingly never-ending trains while on the way to events or appointments. Once through the safety arms, we usually do not give those trains a second thought. Though it does not seem like it, railroad traffic is intertwined with many different parts of our daily lives. Trains, besides traffic congestion, also directly affect our economy and safety. As such, we must carefully examine how developments in the railroad industry will impact the Show-Me State.

This is especially true in light of the proposed Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern railroad merger, which is currently under review by the Surface Transportation Board (STB). A corporate mega-deal will not only ignore Missouri’s concerns with the current state of our railroad infrastructure, but also exacerbate the supply chain woes with which we are currently dealing by tripling train traffic by 2027. The Department of Agriculture highlighted these concerns to the STB just last month.

Deputy Secretary Dr. Jewel Bronaugh testified that rail service complaints among the agricultural sector have skyrocketed in recent months. Unfilled grain car orders in 2022 are more common than ever, and railroads are asking fertilizer shippers to reduce their volumes by 20% or more.

Given the ongoing Ukraine crisis, the world is increasingly dependent on our agriculture. Growing season is getting underway and with expected increase in demand permitting up to three times the existing amount of rail traffic on our already crowded network benefits no one. Railroads are responsible for transporting goods in a timely manner and many have failed to perform that task in recent months – a trend that will surely continue post-merger.

On February 28, the Department of Agriculture wrote to the STB warning that the proposed merger could further degrade rail service. Without a Service Assurance Plan, a detailed document identifying and addressing transitional service issues, our farmers and agriculture stakeholders have good reason to be concerned. Our economy is already struggling with poor rail planning and aging infrastructure, barely managing the existing transportation load.

According to a recent analysis Missouri ranks fourteenth in the country for most locomotive derailments, suffering 194 of them from 2015 to 2019. That’s five derailments for every 100 miles of track. The rest of our infrastructure has not fared much better in studies, either. Our road conditions are among the poorest in the nation, earning a ‘D+’ grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers. It is clear we must collectively improve our infrastructure for the sake of all Missourians. Given existing conditions, it would be negligent to boost railroad traffic without considering these and addressing these factors; the White House already created a roadmap to do so.

When Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, it provided up to $2 million to study the effects of trains longer than 7,500 feet. As of now, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have yet to launch that study. The STB is working with incomplete information, hurting Missourians in the process.

I hope this is part of the conversation at the annual meeting of the North American Rail Shippers Association in Kansas City, Missouri, this week. Attendees, including several large railroads, should discuss these concerns and evaluate increasing movement of agricultural goods and products across the country. Given the proposed merger’s likelihood to infringe upon this capacity, I hope it remains a prominent point of discussion for all in attendance. Our economy and the safety of its contributors are too important to jeopardize for any perceived short-term gains.

Given railroads’ major influence on how we live and interact with the world, we must take everything into account when evaluating this merger. While regulatory bodies conduct their investigations, it is difficult to guarantee they are considering Missouri’s best interest. This is why it is critically important to understand how tripling train traffic will impact our communities and make our voices heard on the issue.