The federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) gave long-suffering near west suburbs the gift they were hoping for on Christmas Eve, unanimously approving the Canadian National Railway’s application to acquire control of the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway Company (EJ&E).

In announcing the approval, STB Chairman Charles D. Nottingham called the decision “a significant step forward in our nation’s efforts to alleviate rail and highway congestion.”

“I am pleased that the board agreed, in a bipartisan and unanimous manner, after an unprecedented public involvement process, to grant the relief that this merger will provide to the many Chicago neighborhoods that have been disproportionately burdened for many decades with severe rail traffic-related roadway congestion,” he said.

The proposed sale had been met with intense opposition from numerous outlying suburbs in a wide arc from northwest Barrington to far south Mokena. Those suburbs can expect to see train traffic significantly increase, which will lead to vehicular traffic delays at grade crossings.

However, inner-ring suburbs such as North Riverside and Riverside and the city of Chicago itself can expect fewer trains on Canadian National’s tracks. The railroad cuts diagonally through North Riverside and Riverside from First Avenue to Harlem Avenue between Cermak Road and 26th Street.

Motorists are delayed by long, slow trains that sometimes block every grade crossing in the two towns. Residents, meanwhile, are often harassed by engineers who sound their loud train horns in early morning hours.

Earlier this year, Canadian National officials estimated that as a result of the merger, freight traffic on the line that runs from Broadview to Cicero through North Riverside and Riverside would be cut in half.

The STB held 22 public meetings over an eight-month period in the Chicago area. A draft environment impact statement (DEIS) was issued and widely circulated in that region, and the board received more than 9,500 public comments in response to the DEIS. A final environmental impact statement was issued on Dec. 5.

The approval is subject to a number of STB-imposed conditions, including “substantial environmental mitigation” designed to minimize potential adverse environmental impacts of the transaction, including:

Two highway-rail grade separation projects

Cameras to monitor highway-rail crossings to assist in the timely response of emergency providers

School and pedestrian safety measures

Noise reduction measures

A 5-year environmental reporting requirement mandating applicants to file quarterly reports on the implementation of the board-imposed environmental mitigation

A board-imposed five-year formal oversight period, with applicants required to submit monthly operational reports to the STB.