Increased train traffic could wreak havoc on Davenport’s Nahant Marsh

Published: Feb. 9, 2023 at 11:13 PM CST
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DAVENPORT, Iowa (KWQC) - Conservation officials in the Quad Cities are speaking out against the potential multi-billion dollar merger of Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern railways.

The Surface Transportation Board is expected to make a decision on the merger in the coming weeks. Its Office of Environmental Analysis found that a merger could nearly triple train traffic through the Iowa Quad Cities.

It also found that increased rail traffic would “not adversely affect” water and wildlife.

However, it did find noise and vibrations caused by the increase would adversely affect humans.

The Executive Director of the Nahant Marsh, Brian Ritter said the noise caused by more trains alone could have negative consequences for the life in the wetlands.

“We’re not just worried about Nahant Marsh,” Ritter said. “We’re worried about the confluence of the Wapsi River, the confluence of the of the Maquoketa River and Princeton Marsh ... all these unique places that the railroad travels right through the heart of.”

Only a row of bushes separates the marsh from Canadian Pacific’s Nahant Yard in Davenport.

According to Ritter, more consistent noise brought on by longer and more frequent trains could wreak havoc on the nature preserve.

“Even without honking the horns, trains are incredibly, incredibly noisy,” Ritter said. “That impacts wildlife, impacts the frogs that live here who are trying to call for mates in the spring. [Its] more difficult for that with birds”

In addition to noise, the OEA also found an increase in hazardous materials traveling on the rail network.

Its Environmental Impact Statement said 29,550 hazmat carloads would pass through the marsh without a merger. If the STB approves the union of the railroads, that goes up to about 74,016 carloads traveling through the same segment by 2027, an increase of about 150.4%.

However, the agency assesses the risk of a spill as “very low.”

For Ritter, that’s not a risk he’s willing to take.

“If you get high amounts in a sudden spill into a high concentration of chemicals, it could really wipe out this ecosystem,” Ritter said. “[It can] do sort of long-lasting permanent damage.”

It’s not just the wildlife Ritter worries about, but visitors using the trails along the Mississippi River that lead to the marsh.

“This sort of jeopardizes that and breaks our connectivity, not just here, but in Downtown Davenport,” Ritter said. “I grew up using the riverfront all the time going to concerts and fishing and other things like that.”

After the release of the OEA’s Final EIS, there is a 30-day waiting period before the STB can make a decision on the merger. The earliest can make a decision is Feb. 27.