Photo by Martin Vorel. https://libreshot.com/

The column below reflects the views of the author, and these opinions are neither endorsed nor supported by WisOpinion.com.

It has come to my attention that the Canadian Pacific-Kansas City Southern merger will lead to the length of trains trekking through Wisconsin to nearly double. That is certainly going to have a negative impact on the quality of life in communities across the state.

Data from the Government Accountability Office found that since 2008, the average freight train length has increased by about 25% to 1.4 miles. Further increasing train lengths will make wait times at at-grade crossings even worse than they already are.

In 2020, Canadian Pacific Railway self-reported nearly 1,800 reported cases of crossings being blocked for more than an hour. Out of the reported instances, there were 85 cases of a train blocking a crossing for an entire day. Can you imagine the disruption to our daily lives?

At-grade crossings have been a problem for many years now, and not just in our community. A 2021 U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation review states that “increased rail and road traffic volumes mean that highway-rail grade crossings have more potential to impact their local communities with long and unpredictable travel delays and temporary increases in emergency response times.”

The same U.S. Senate Committee review also plainly states that busy at-grade train crossings “can have significant impacts on the quality of life in a community and can hinder first responders timely access to emergency services.” Here are a few recent examples that could happen to our community:

• Police took 20 min. to respond to a suicide threat in Davis, Okla., when the person was less than three blocks away from the police station. All three rail crossings in the town were blocked by a stopped train.
• First responders were forced to crawl through a rail car in Edmonds, Wash., to reach a pregnant woman about to give birth (and others with minor injuries) due to a train blocking the only access to them.
• Most recently, in Lockland, Ohio, a home roughly 300-400 feet from the train track sat in flames eight times longer than it should have due to the fire department being trapped behind a train blocking the tracks.

These stories are heart-breaking and all too possible if the merger is approved. In fact, we should demand a study be completed in all communities affected by this potential merger to ensure there will not be adverse outcomes. The Government Accountability Office has been recommending this for years—even before a merger that would exacerbate these issues was proposed.

Every town and community in Wisconsin through which these train tracks go should be worried. If this merger happens without mitigations, it will be at the expense of the safety and well-being of our neighbors, businesses and community members.

– Longtime activist Bert Stitt has more than 40 years of experience with community engagement and has had an active role in many issues, including transportation. He is currently on the committee supporting the exciting Lakefront Porch project in downtown Madison.

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