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Metra and several major freight railroads on Friday stressed the need to advance the 75th Street Corridor Improvement Project (CIP) in Chicago, where freight-rail demand is expected to nearly double over the next 30 years.The largest component of the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) program, the $1 billion CIP is designed to relieve congestion at tracks on Chicago's south side that cause significant delays for Metra, Amtrak and six freight railroads. Lines operated by CSX Transportation, Norfolk Southern Railway, Union Pacific Railroad, the Belt Railway Co. of Chicago, CN and Canadian Pacific converge in an area just north of 75th Street, causing choke points at three rail-to-rail crossings. The CIP calls for realigning and building tracks, and constructing bridges to eliminate the choke points.About 90 freight trains move through the area daily. The project will be particularly beneficial for Metra, which operates 30 trains each weekday on the SouthWest Service Line (SWS) that traverse the corridor on freight tracks between Chicago Union Station and Manhattan, Ill., Metra officials said in a press release.The trains must pass through two of the rail-to-rail crossings known as the Belt and Forest Hill junctions. The project includes the addition of a second track to a nearly two-mile section of the SWS that now has only one and a bridge connection between the SWS and Rock Island Line near 75th Street, Metra officials said."That accomplishes two things: First, SWS trains no longer would conflict with freight trains between 75th Street and downtown. Second, SWS trains would terminate at LaSalle Street Station instead of Union Station, which would free up some capacity at Union Station," they said.Metra's board on Friday affirmed a resolution to support the CIP, and urged legislators and state and federal agencies to work to promote and fund the CREATE program. The resolution noted the CIP will support "greatly increased efficiency in Metra’s commuter-rail operations, Amtrak’s intercity services and freight movement through the Chicago rail hub.""By fixing this tangle of railroad tracks, we can reduce delays to Metra trains and freight trains and help ensure Chicago retains its position as the nation’s railroad capital," said Metra Chairman Martin Oberman.The CREATE program involves 70 projects designed to separate freight and passenger trains at six key junctions in the Chicago area, increase rail capacity, boost train speed and reliability, and eliminate 25 grade crossings. The program is managed via a public-private partnership among Amtrak, the Association of American Railroads, BNSF Railway Co., Belt Railway, CP, CN, CSX, Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad Co., Metra, NS, UP, and the Illinois and Chicago Departments of Transportation.
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