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A new freight rail line is the first to run through Mexico, the U.S. and Canada

MILES PARKS, HOST:

For more than a century, people have been talking about building a railroad linking all three countries in North America. Well, it's finally happened. Two big freight railroads have merged to create a line that links the U.S., Mexico and Canada. The idea is that seamless service will make shipping goods across the continent cheaper, safer and cleaner. But as Frank Morris of member station KCUR reports, some people living along the tracks are worried about a big bump in rail traffic.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: In a rail yard in Kansas City, a couple hundred people turned out yesterday, all dressed up, to mark something that hasn't happened in a quarter century - the birth of a major freight railroad.

KEITH CREEL: It's absolutely a historic day.

MORRIS: Keith Creel is president and CEO of Canadian Pacific Kansas City, or CPKC. That's the new railroad formed from the merger of Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern. Back in the late 1800s, companies built rail lines spanning the US and Canada. Each one finished with a ceremonial golden spike, or last spike.

CREEL: Now, today, here we are, 140 years later - 142 years later - we'll be driving the final spike.

(SOUNDBITE OF HAMMER CLINKING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: There you go.

(APPLAUSE)

MORRIS: CPKC runs to both coasts of Canada and both coasts of Mexico connecting through the middle of the United States. Creel says one railroad reaching all those ports and markets will speed up shipping. He says it will mean 64,000 fewer trucks on the road each year, saving lots of fuel and cutting pollution.

CREEL: This is all about growth and opportunity. It's about investment, and it's about creating a safer rail network. And it's creating capacity that this nation or all three nations have never needed more.

MORRIS: But a few miles up the tracks from Kansas City in Excelsior Springs, Mo., the merger looks a little different.

HOLLY MINGS: It's going to be a major nuisance.

MORRIS: Holly Mings and her husband and two children live in a house that backs up to the CPKC tracks.

MINGS: Children, back here.

MORRIS: If it's successful, the merger will double rail traffic rumbling past Mings' house, making it about 14 trains a day for starters.

MINGS: It's going to wake up me and my children in the middle of the night every night. And if the traffic increases nightly, we may not get any sleep.

MORRIS: Mings isn't sleeping well anyhow. She's got nightmares about derailments.

MINGS: Of course, with all that we're hearing, with all the trains derailing and all the hideous things that are happening, yeah, it freaks me out that it's right there. And in my dream, this oil had spilled out of this train, and it was like - it was coming for our house.

MORRIS: Since the fiery toxic train crash in East Palestine, Ohio, derailments have been in the news, though actually they happen a lot less often than they used to. But trains tipping over isn't the only concern. In small cities up and down the line, emergency crews worry about ambulance and fire trucks getting held up behind trains cutting through town. In Greater Chicago, they're concerned that more freight trains could tie up commuter trains because they share the same tracks. But all this assumes that the $31 billion merger is going to generate a ton of new business. And there's some doubt about that.

TED PRINCE: What's the point? How much transcontinental business is there? This is not a merge and declare victory. They're going to have to fight in the market to attract business and keep it.

MORRIS: Ted Prince works for Tiger Kool Express, an intermodal shipping company he co-founded in Overland Park, Kansas. He used to be the senior vice president for intermodal at Kansas City Southern. And Prince says the newly formed CPKC faces stiff competition from bigger railroads.

PRINCE: Single-line service does not necessarily equate to better service. The Union Pacific has a better route from Chicago to the border. That's not going to change.

MORRIS: What has changed is the freight rail map of North America. Now there are two big railroads in the west, two in the east and two running primarily north and south, one of which is Canadian Pacific Kansas City. And most people in the rail industry expect that setup to hold for decades to come.

For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris in Kansas City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Morris has supervised the reporters in KCUR's newsroom since 1999. In addition to his managerial duties, Morris files regularly with National Public Radio. He’s covered everything from tornadoes to tax law for the network, in stories spanning eight states. His work has won dozens of awards, including four national Public Radio News Directors awards (PRNDIs) and several regional Edward R. Murrow awards. In 2012 he was honored to be named "Journalist of the Year" by the Heart of America Press Club.

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