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Major US railroad merger could bring more tar sands to Southeast Texas

Updated: Feb 18, 2023

A sign near one of Houston’s train crossings warns residents of extended delays. [Katie Watkins/Houston Public Media]

By Amal Ahmed for Floodlight and Katie Watkins for Houston Public Media

When Lindsay Williams moved into her home near the railroad tracks on Houston’s east side, she knew freight trains would pass by regularly. What she wasn’t expecting were trains longer than a mile frequently stalled for hours on the neighborhood tracks, blocking multiple intersections of traffic during the day and rumbling her house at night.

“A few nights ago, we had a locomotive just idling right outside our home for six hours throughout the night, shaking the entire house,” Williams said.

In the coming months, the rail traffic problems could get worse. Two major North American railways, Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern, have proposed a $27bn (£22bn) merger that would make it easier to move freight across North America with the first unified continental rail network. The merger is awaiting final approval from US regulators. In Houston, that would mean an additional eight trains passing through each day.

However, the rail merger doesn’t just pose more inconveniences for residents of Houston’s East End. If it goes through, it would create the first direct route from Canada’s bitumen oil sands mines in Alberta to heavy crude refineries in Port Arthur, an industrial city on the Texas coast. “We fully expect that the combination of the two railroads will only strengthen their support for this new source of bitumen,” the vice-president of USD Group, a Texas-based midstream company, told a Canadian newspaper last year.

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