Ill. Dept. of Transportation
The opening ceremony of the Englewood Flyover, which will save time and money for freight and passengers.
Published monthly, MPC’s Talking Transit provides updates about transit-related activities around the world.
Get In the Loop on all the latest local, national and international transit headlines.
Did You Know?
One-fourth of the nation’s rail freight traverses the Chicago region every day on 37,500 railcars, bringing the nation’s raw materials to factories and consumers. The six Class I railroads that connect Chicagoland to the world collectively transfer about $36 billion in value through the region, according to a new study by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. Those figures are increasing, with total tonnage hauled in and out of the region having risen by about 20 percent since 2007 and expected to rise by an additional 153 percent by 2040. Rail freight represents a significant and increasing element of the region’s economy.
A program to improve railroad service
While Chicago is the hub of the nation’s rail system, its infrastructure is groaning under the weight of 1,300 daily trains, about 60 percent of which are carrying passengers on the Metra commuter and Amtrak intercity systems. Today, it can take up to 30 hours for a freight rail car to traverse the region because of intersecting traffic, at-grade crossings with automobiles and congested conditions. And, because of the recent rise in traffic, both passenger and freight trains are increasingly delayed.
The Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) bundle of projects is designed to address some of those concerns. CREATE was announced in 2003 as a partnership of the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, State of Illinois, City of Chicago, Metra, Amtrak and the six Class I railroads in the Chicago region. It includes a total of 70 individual infrastructure projects that will cost $3.8 billion (in 2013 dollars) to complete and dramatically improve the efficiency of rail travel throughout the region by updating bridges and viaducts, eliminating automobile traffic crossings and building new tracks when appropriate. So far, $1.2 billion has been committed, with 13 percent covered by the railroads, 38 percent by the federal government, 46 percent by the state and 3 percent by the City of Chicago.
Recent estimates suggest that these projects will produce more than $28 billion in economic and social benefits over 30 years, so the project’s benefits clearly outweigh its costs. But more than $2 billion remains to be identified to complete the project.
On Nov. 18, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) will host a roundtable featuring Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Ill. Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook), Jeffrey Sriver of the Chicago Dept. of Transportation and Audrey Wennink of Cambridge Systematics, who will discuss the progress made so far on CREATE and the potential for future improvements. The roundtable will be moderated by Wes Lujan of Union Pacific Railroad.
The Englewood Flyover includes a new bridge for the Metra Rock Island over the Dan Ryan Expressway and Norfolk Southern's tracks.
The Englewood Flyover
In October, the CREATE partnership The roughly 140 daily freight and passenger trains that use the crossing were often forced to wait for other trains to move through the intersection before crossing. In recent years, Metra riders have experienced an average of 7,500 annual hours of delay because of the conditions at this crossing.
The Flyover, which began construction in 2012, allows the Rock Island and Norfolk Southern tracks to cross over one another without obstructing movement. This will speed up service in the future for intercity rail service planned for trips from Chicago to St. Louis and allow a 50 percent increase in train volumes. The project also included new bridges over the Dan Ryan Expressway and the Chicago Transit Authority Red Line.
The Englewood Flyover was made possible primarily thanks to a federal government grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which covered 90 percent of costs.
More work to be done to complete the other projects
The Englewood Flyover provides an essential starting point for further improvements planned on the South Side of the city of Chicago. The 75th Street Corridor Improvement Project, which would redirect some Metra commuter trains to speed service and expand access to freight, would improve viaducts and increase the number of tracks available to rail traffic. The Grand Crossing Project would reduce congestion on the routes of three Amtrak services by identifying new corridors that will allow them to avoid having to back up into downtown’s Union Station, which currently increases travel times.
Despite the investments made so far in CREATE, over $2 billion in additional funds is needed to complete all of the projects, particularly those designed for passenger service improvements such as the two mentioned above, which are currently in the engineering phase. Of the seven projects designated as passenger corridors, just one—the Englewood Flyover—is funded. Of the 25 projects that involve grade separations, moving car traffic out of the way of trains (and vice versa), just seven are funded.
Additional support is needed from government and private actors to complete the program in the coming years. CREATE offers the potential to speed freight and passenger trains, increasing the efficiency of the national economy and improving the competitiveness of Chicagoland.