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6/17/2003



Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

Railroads, Chicago, Illinois team up to tackle Windy City traffic congestion


Lately, a few Class Is have been extolling the virtues of public/private partnerships as a way to fund infrastructure improvements. On June 16, the six largest Class Is, Association of American Railroads, the city of Chicago and state of Illinois announced plans to do just that — in a big way — by forming a partnership to improve Windy City-area infrastructure, and relieve freight- and passenger-rail congestion.


The partners plan to spend $1.5 billion to create five rail corridors, including one primarily for passenger trains; grade separate 25 crossings to eliminate commuter delays; build six flyovers to separate freight- and commuter-rail traffic; and remove a downtown rail corridor to enable commercial development.


"This could serve as a model for cost-effective public/private partnerships," said AAR President and Chief Executive Officer Edward Hamberger in a prepared statement. "Railroads will pay for the benefits they receive from the project and the government will pay for the public benefits that accrue from it."


A vocal public/private partnership proponent, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Chairman, President and CEO Matthew Rose agrees that the Chicago agreement can serve as a "first-of-its-kind model," one that could be "replicated throughout the nation to meet the forecasted demand for efficient freight and passenger transportation."


Expected to take six years to complete, the project is designed to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution, improve access for emergency vehicles (six grade separations would involve "911" critical crossings); promote more efficient commuter-rail service; and produce almost $500 million in annual public benefits, partnership principals said.


BNSF, Canadian National Railway Co., Canadian Pacific Railway, CSX Transportation, Norfolk Southern Railway and Union Pacific Railroad — which all serve the Chicago area — have committed more than $210 million toward the project. City, state and federal agencies, and Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corp. (Metra) will contribute the remainder.


During the past three years, Class Is have spent more than $1.2 billion to improve Chicago-area infrastructure, AAR said.


"That gateway [already] handles more than 37,500 rail freight cars every day, [and] 20 years from now, that's expected to increase to 67,000 cars a day," said Hamberger. "The agreement … will help both railroads and the city cope with this increase in freight volume."


Former Surface Transportation Board Chairman Linda Morgan helped forge the partnership, which took four years to develop, said current STB Chairman Roger Nober in a statement.


"The agreement … is the culmination of years of effort by all participants," he said. "By addressing head-on the current freight bottleneck in Chicago, this municipal, state, and private partnership not only will facilitate freight and passenger-rail movement in Chicago, but also will improve the transportation of rail freight nationwide."


Chicago Mayor Richard Daley believes the city's rail-traffic congestion will only get worse if the improvements aren't made.


"There's the danger that shippers will try to bypass Chicago to avoid the bottleneck — at great cost to the Chicago economy," he said.


Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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