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Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

CREATE train rolls into Springfield to lobby legislators for Illinois' $100 million allotment


Federal dollars? Check. City of Chicago’s appropriation? Yup. How about the railroads’ own financial share? Already committed. And the state of Illinois’ funding allotment? Not set in stone just yet.

That’s why more than 100 railroad, local government and business, and labor officials, as well as rail industry constituents and engineering consultants rode a Union Pacific Railroad train from Chicago to Springfield Feb. 28 to lobby state legislators for a firm funding allocation for the first phase of the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency or CREATE program. First proposed in June 2003, the $1.5 billion program will be funded by six Class Is, the Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corp. (Metra), federal government, state of Illinois and city of Chicago.

Under an initial $330 million, three-year pact the public-private partners reached in fall 2006 to fund the program’s first phase, the federal government authorized $100 million (as part of SAFETEA-LU), the state of Illinois pledged $100 million, the Class Is agreed to provide a combined $100 million and the city of Chicago committed $30 million. Last month, the feds released $25 million of the government’s $100 million share to help get the program under way. However, state officials haven’t officially authorized legislation or approved a budget line item that commits $100 million to CREATE, train trip attendees said.

So, members of 18 lobbying teams spent parts of two days last week in Illinois’ capital meeting with legislators to encourage the general assembly to fund the program. In addition, eight CREATE supporters — including BNSF Railway Co.’s Paul Nowicki, CSX Corp’s and the Chicago Transportation Coordination Office’s Earl Wacker, Chicago Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) Cheri Heramb and Crete, Ill., Mayor Mike Einhorn — testified at a Illinois House Rail Committee hearing on the program.

“CREATE will do far more than simply increase the efficiency of freight- and passenger-rail service throughout the region. It will improve public safety, reduce commuting times, improve air quality and decrease noise pollution in many Chicago neighborhoods and suburban communities,” said Heramb, CDOT’s acting commissioner.

Designed to eliminate bottlenecks, boost grade crossing safety and improve commuter-rail service, the CREATE program calls for creating five rail corridors, grade separating 25 crossings, building six flyovers and underpasses, and removing a downtown rail corridor. Under the program’s first phase, the partners plan to complete about 40 percent of the program’s 78 individual projects, including six grade separations; four freight/passenger rail separations; 21 signal, track and other system improvements; and various viaduct improvements.

This year, construction will start on seven projects. The partners will add a second rail connection in Melrose Park between a UP and Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad Co. (IHB) line; upgrade a secondary track segment to a main track in LaGrange; install new crossovers and signal equipment on a double-track section in Broadview; extend a rail connection between BNSF and IHB in McCook; install a computerized signal system in three locations; install an additional mainline track and computerized signal system in Chicago’s 12th Ward; and upgrade track and signals, and reconfigure an interlocking in the city’s 14th Ward. Another seven projects will get under way in 2008.

Jeff Stagl

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 3/5/2007