CN, CP remain at loggerheads over Chicago interchange

Railroads file dueling briefs with STB over dispute
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A light power move of Canadian Pacific and Norfolk Southern locomotives departs Bensenville Yard and passes through the Franklin Park, Ill., Metra station as a transfer cut with CSX locomotives arrives off the Indiana Harbor Belt. CP and Canadian National are in a dispute over their interchange location in the Chicago area.
TRAINS: David Lassen

WASHINGTON – Canadian National and Canadian Pacific interchange in Chicago won’t stop this week.

Or will it?

The answer was unclear today amid the railways’ dueling regulatory filings with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, which was unlikely to allow interchange to grind to a halt.

Last week CP asked federal regulators to intervene in the dispute with CN, which aims to move the interchange from Spaulding in Bartlett, Ill., not far from CP’s Bensenville Yard, to CN’s Kirk Yard in Gary, Ind., effective May 10. [See “Canadian Pacific, Canadian National locked in Chicago interchange dispute,” Trains News Wire, May 2, 2019.]

CP opposes the move and argues that CN cannot unilaterally shift the interchange. CP asked the STB to declare Kirk Yard an unreasonable interchange location and to issue a preliminary injunction to keep the interchange at Spaulding until an acceptable agreement can be reached.

“If it were true that interchange operations between Class I carriers in Chicago were on the verge of shutting down because of a railroad’s intransigence, then the Board might be justified in using its … authority to stop that railroad from causing that harm,” CN said in a May 3 filing with the STB. “But the only railroad that is threatening to stop interchanging traffic is CP. CN will deliver interchange traffic to CP at its Bensenville Yard, and CN is prepared to begin receiving interchange traffic from CP at Clearing Yard.”

CN Chief Operating Officer Mike Cory outlined this interchange compromise in a May 1 letter to his counterpart at CP, Robert Johnson.

Under this plan, CN would deliver CP’s cars to the Indiana Harbor Belt, which would forward them to CP’s Bensenville Yard. CP, in turn, would use trackage rights over Belt Railway of Chicago to reach the terminal road’s Clearing Yard, where CN would pick up the traffic and bring it to Kirk Yard.

CP, in a filing today, said it will not deliver cars to CN at Clearing. “Absent a lawful replacement interchange location, CP is entitled to continue to deliver CN's cars to Spaulding, and that is what CP intends to do,” CP wrote. “Should CN follow through with its refusal to pull cars spotted at Spaulding after May 9, 2019, CN’s action – not CP’s – will cause irreparable harm.”

CP and CN have been exchanging traffic at Spaulding since 2010, when they consolidated their Chicago Terminal interchange at one location under a single agreement after CN’s acquisition of the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern. CP and CN lines intersect at Spaulding, 17.2 miles west of Bensenville Yard.

Cory says that Spaulding is no longer an efficient interchange location because switching ties up its single-track main line, which leads to congestion on CN’s system and blocks area grade crossings.

CN and CP have been discussing moving the interchange since last year but have been unable to agree on a location, CP said in its filing last week.

CN disagrees, saying the railroads have come up with alternatives that work operationally. “The only remaining dispute is a pure matter of money,” CN wrote in its May 3 filing.

CP wants CN to pick up the tab for trackage rights costs related to interchange.

CN says that’s unfair, and that each railroad should pay trackage rights associated with delivering cars to new interchange points. CN also contends that the case does not rise to a level requiring an injunction from the STB.

CP’s May 6 letter to the STB is available here.

CN's May 3 filing is available here.

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