Moving our nation’s goods through freight - Metropolitan Planning Council

Skip to main content

Moving our nation’s goods through freight

If the region doesn’t address its rail congestion and infrastructure issues now, we will lose 17,000 jobs and more than $2 billion in annual economic production over the next 20 years.

Everyday, more than 37,500 rail freight cars travel through the Chicago region, transporting everything from food to textiles to electronics, making Chicago the rail hub of North America . Chicago is responsible for moving one-third of the country’s rail traffic, and Chicago ’s status as the center of the freight rail industry enriches the Illinois economy with 38,000 jobs and more than $22 billion in economic activity.

On one hand, the freight industry is booming and provides a powerful economic engine for the region. On the other, the effects of freight congestion are growing: commuters are experiencing greater delays at rail crossings, rail infrastructure suffers from a serious lack of investment, and regional chokepoints have nearly halted the trains that carry our nation’s goods. Trains travel at average speeds of less than 10 miles per hour and often take more than three days to travel through the Chicago rail hub. This costs shippers almost $40 million annually.

Clearly, the industry’s regional infrastructure has not kept up with increased rail demand, which affects more than just our freight rail network. Metra’s commuter rail network shares congested track with freight trains, often delaying passengers. Idling trains waste fuel and freight is frequently diverted to less efficient trucks thereby worsening road congestion and the region’s air and noise quality. Even though one train can haul an average of 280 truck trailers and move one ton of freight an average of 410 miles on just one gallon of fuel, shippers turn to trucks for their needs because of delays. Studies project the region will handle 67,000 freight rail cars daily within the next 20 years, doubling today’s traffic. As the region grows, the problems will only get worse.

The Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) program is a public-private partnership established by the City of Chicago, State of Illinois, and private railroads to build 25 grade separations and modernize track in order to help reduce rail and traffic congestion, promote economic development, and improve the quality of the region’s environment. With CREATE improvements, the region’s idling motorists waiting for trains to pass would regain more than 195,000 lost hours and 200,000 gallons of gas per year; while passenger rail commuters would save $190 million worth of time. With infrastructure needs estimated at $1.5 billion, the consequences of not properly funding rail improvements would not only have devastating effects in the region, but nationally and internationally as well.

This article was featured in Talking Transit, MPC's bi-weekly e-newsletter. To receive the newsletter, email with 'Subscribe' in the subject line.

More posts by Emily

All posts by Emily »

MPC on Twitter

Follow us on Twitter »

Stay in the loop!

MPC's Regionalist newsletter keeps you up to date with our work and our upcoming events.

Subscribe to Regionalist

Most popular news

Browse by date »

This page can be found online at

Metropolitan Planning Council 140 S. Dearborn St.
Suite 1400
Chicago, Ill. 60603
312 922 5616

Sign up for newsletter and alerts »

Shaping a more equitable, sustainable and prosperous greater Chicago region

For more than 80 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has made the Chicago region a better place to live and work by partnering with businesses, communities and governments to address the area's toughest planning and development challenges. MPC works to solve today's urgent problems while consistently thinking ahead to prepare the region for the needs of tomorrow. Read more about our work »

Donate »