Railroad Merger Could Link All of North America and Lower Emissions

Graphic: Annabel Driussi for Our Daily Planet

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

A $29 billion merger between two of North America’s biggest railroad companies could connect Canada, the U.S., and Mexico by rail for the first time. Canadian Pacific is buying Kansas City Southern, creating about 20,000 miles of continent-spanning tracks. Don’t start planning a massive train journey, though: these are freight trains, not passenger rail. Freight moves everything from car parts to chemicals to grains. The merger also still needs approval from the Surface Transportation Board and also to go through antitrust regulatory approvals. If it does chug ahead (ha!), it would increase efficiencies in moving goods around North America.

Why this Matters: Increasing the connectivity of rail networks is a “compelling opportunity to take trucks off the road,” as Canadian Pacific’s chief executive told the New York Times. Transportation is a huge source of carbon emissions and how our things get from one place to another is just as important as how people move around. The EPA estimates that shipments of U.S. goods will grow by 45 percent in the next 20 years and that emissions from freight will surpass all other transportation categories, including passenger transportation. Shifting from trucks to trains can help rein in those emissions, which should help both lessen climate change impacts and peoples’ health. 

Infrastructure Investment Could be Coming: The merger comes ahead of an expected Biden administration announcement of trillions of investment in the economy. The Times reports that as much as $1 trillion of the proposed package would be for “construction of roads, bridges, rail lines, ports, electric vehicle charging stations and improvements to the electric grid and other parts of the power sector.”

Rail Across the Atlantic: While Europe has more robust passenger rail than the U.S., its freight transportation is still heavily truck-reliant. The current split is 75% by road, 18% by rail, plus a fun 7% of goods arrive by waterways. Rail Freight Forward, a coalition of rail freight companies invested in making freight transport cleaner, estimates that if the continent doesn’t act proactively, there will be an additional 1 million trucks on the road by 2013. All those extra vehicles could increase carbon emissions by 80 million tons, putting global climate targets at risk. 

While the cost of inaction is high, by increasing the percentage of freight transport by train to 30% in the next decade, the coalition estimates that nearly 300 million tons of carbon emissions would be saved — not to mention the 40,000 less premature deaths due to pollution avoided. 

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