CN Railway vs. suburbs again

The battle between Canadian National Railway and suburban homeowners has flared again. 

A decade after CN won federal approval to acquire the former Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway line in 2009, CN is seeking to lay a second track along four-plus miles of the line in Hoffman Estates and Elgin. Residents of those areas don’t like this plan, and are fighting back. 

But it’s not just another case of NIMBY-ism. So please don’t cite that old “railroads were here first” argument.  

Created in the 1800s, the EJ&E had been lightly used in latter years. Many suburbs sprung up along the 198-mile arc around Chicago. Homeowners literally had “the J” in their backyards, but didn’t mind too much. But CN, and it’s brash CEO, E. Hunter Harrison, realized the acquisition would be a faster and more efficient way to bypass Chicago’s congested rail hub.

So instead of a few trains a day, CN’s plan was to bring dozens of mile-long-plus double-stacks carrying Chinese-made goods through these communities. Suburbs like Barrington and Aurora fought the acquisition, saying these trains would tie up crossings, block emergency responders, and transport hazardous products like crude oil dangerously close to homes and schools. CN ultimately won regulatory approval from the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

CN, acting under its Wisconsin Central Ltd. Railroad subsidiary, has applied to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a permit to construct the additional main line track…