After years spent assessing
Chicago’s freight-rail congestion problems, railroad industry experts proposed an action plan that will prepare
the region for growth and help solidify its place as the nation’s
primary rail hub. Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, U.S. Rep. William O.
Lipinski (D-Ill.) and U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), were on hand in June for the unveiling
of the plan, dubbed the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation
Efficiency (CREATE) Project.
The $1.5-billion plan is the work
of a public-private partnership of transportation and rail-industry officials.
It establishes a priority list of rail infrastructure improvements and
grade-crossing eliminations that will reduce rail-related congestion and speed
freight, transit and car traffic throughout the region.
Business Leaders for Transportation led the way in
addressing these congestion issues in 2002 with Critical Cargo: A Regional Freight Action Agenda.
assessed gridlock points on Chicago’s rail network and formed the basis for many of
the analyses that have been done since.
it found that the 37,500 rail cars moving daily through the
region move at average speeds under 12 miles per hour. Put another way, freight
that arrives in two days from the West Coast often takes another two days to get
through the Chicago region. This bottleneck has severe economic impacts that are
felt not only locally but nationwide, as roughly one-third of all freight in the
U.S. passes through the Chicago region.
Freight rail congestion also has negative effects on quality of life
in communities. More than 1,900 at-grade crossings interfere with roadway traffic, tying
up already-congested streets and harming the economic vitality of businesses
and neighborhoods. Passenger trains are held up by freight moving along the
rails, causing delays for commuters. The lack of rail-to-rail connections between yards means
that more than one million trucks are sent out on the region’s roads every year
to transport goods from one train yard to another. Finally, as freight traffic
grows exponentially, failure to address inefficiencies in the rail network will
mean that growth will increasingly be captured by trucks, which will increase road congestion,
reduce highway safety and worsen air pollution.
The CREATE Project aims to alleviate many of these
problems by improving operations, coordinating rail traffic among the area’s
carriers, and eliminating the points of conflict that cause the delays. It
focuses on improving operations in five specific corridors in Chicago and
the inner suburbs (see project map
), and includes:
The next challenge is to locate
funds for these improvements. Business Leaders and other plan supporters are looking
at a variety of sources. The freight railroads, who are strongly endorsing
the plan, have initially offered to pay over $210 million, and could
increase that contribution based on future analyses of the plan’s impacts. Metra
is also expected to contribute. To make up most of the difference, the
plan’s architects are hoping to secure public dollars, primarily at the federal
level, where Rep. Lipinski has already begun pushing for the creation of a federal rail infrastructure program
that would operate much
like the existing aviation program.
A group of transportation organizations nationwide have
banded together under the name Rail Advocates for Infrastructure Legislation
(RAIL) to support the national rail infrastructure fund concept, which would
help pay for needed improvements nationwide. Recently, RAIL gave testimony
at a hearing on reauthorization
of the six-year federal transportation funding legislation.
For more information on Business Leaders for
Transportation or RAIL, or if you are interested in joining these groups,