1/4 Million May Go Without Heat While Utility and Railroad Argue

September 29, 2017

Nicor Gas has filed suit to force Canadian National Railway (CN) to give Nicor's contractor access to the site where a tanker train derailed near a gas pipeline that was under construction at the time.

After the freight train derailed in Plainfield, Illinois, on June 30, spilling more than 30,000 gallons of crude oil, the CN said the utility company was to blame for the accident because soil beneath the tracks gave way while a gas pipeline was being rebuilt nearby.

In a July filing with the Federal Railroad Administration, CN alleged that the project's contractor, Michels Corporation,  Brownsville, Wisconsin, weakened the ground surrounding the tracks during construction, thus causing the derailment.

The pipeline has remained inoperable since the June 30 incident. If it is not allowed to continue the rebuild, Nicor says, 250,000 gas customers in 32 suburbs of Chicago will not have gas for heat this winter.

The line was scheduled to be completed in mid-September but since the derailment, CN has not allowed Nicor access to the site. Nicor says it needs to test and reconnect the natural gas line by October 15 to meet customer needs

According to Crain's Chicago Business, Nicor says CN hasn't given the utility access to the area to perform its own investigation.

"In a cynical attempt to force Nicor to accept without investigation its tender of indemnification for damages associated with the derailment, CN has attempted to block Nicor from doing any further work—either to complete the replacement of the (line) or to simply return to service the original line that has operated safely for 40 years," according to Nicor's filing.

Nicor presented CN with alternate plans to replace the pipeline without any further excavation under the railroad, or to temporarily reconnect the existing pipeline and safety test it to get through the winter, but CN has not allowed either option.

The accident remains under federal investigation. "Nicor Gas is cooperating fully with the investigation, and if the work being performed by Nicor Gas' contractors led, in whole or in part, to the events connected to the derailment, Nicor Gas will deal with any issues of financial liability at the appropriate time, separately from the immediate need to restore natural gas service to our customers," the utility said in a statement.

A CN spokesman said the railroad "recognizes that Nicor provides important services to residents and businesses of northern Illinois, but just like railways, utility companies must discharge that responsibility safely. CN's investigation, validated by third-party engineering firms, determined the cause of the derailment was due to the faulty installation of a Nicor natural-gas pipe below the track. We remain committed to working with Nicor and its contractors to fully address our public safety concerns, and believe these issues can be resolved."

Town affected would include: Des Plaines, Schaumburg, Elk Grove Village, Wood Dale, Itasca, Medinah, Bensenville, Addison, Glen Ellyn, Villa Park, Elmhurst, Lombard, Schiller Park, Franklin Park, Elmwood Park, Rosemont, River Grove, Stone Park, Melrose Park, Hillside, Berkeley, Westchester, Broadview, North Riverside, La Grange Park, Riverside, Brookfield, Western Springs, Oak Brook, Oakbrook Terrace, Glendale Heights and Roselle.