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CN pulls out of Chicago's CREATE program

The seven railroads that partnered with state and local governments two years ago to propose the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) program has become a sixsome: Canadian National Railway Co. has withdrawn as a program participant.

Just before Christmas, CN officials informed Association of American Railroads (AAR) CREATE representatives that the Class I would not renew a participation agreement, which expired at 2005’s end. The main reason: Federal and state agencies haven’t provided funding quickly enough or in the expected amount, CN officials believe.

The railroads — which plan to pony up a combined $100 million for the program — still are waiting for the state of Illinois to approve the state Department of Transportation’s (IDOT) $100 million appropriation. And last year, reauthorized highway bill SAFETEA-LU included a $100 million appropriation for the $1.5 billion, six-year program, but CREATE partners had expected the federal government to provide $800 million to $900 million, says Jim Kvedaras, CN senior manager of U.S. public and government affairs.

“Federal funding didn’t materialize,” he says. “That left us in the uncomfortable position of having to provide funds for something we weren’t getting benefits from.”

The CREATE program originally called for rerouting and rebuilding CN’s corridor on Chicago’s south side.

“We were a unique partner in that an entire corridor had to be built before we started getting benefits from it,” says Kvedaras. “Other railroads would improve their own corridors.”

Partners BNSF Railway Co., Canadian Pacific Railway, CSX Transportation, Norfolk Southern Railway, Union Pacific Railroad and the Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corp. (Metra) still aim to complete the program in conjunction with the city of Chicago and IDOT. Designed to eliminate bottlenecks, reduce highway congestion, ease city travel for emergency vehicles and improve commuter-rail service, CREATE originally included plans 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 foster commercial development.

“We don’t believe our withdrawal will lead to the demise of the project,” says Kvedaras.

No other railroads have withdrawn from the program, AAR officials say.

“Several million dollars have already been contributed by the railroads and IDOT,” AAR officials said in a prepared statement. “Work on phase-one engineering is under way, including 20 of the 42 individual projects that make up CREATE. In addition, all of the mapping and surveying required for the project has been completed.”

Jeff Stagl

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 1/18/2006