A private enterprise plan seeks to help railroads avoid Chicago congestion, for a price

Original Post Source

Dive Brief:

  • The Great Lakes Basin Transportation company filed for federal permission to fund and build a $2.8 billion, 261-mile freight railroad line bypassing Chicago’s overcrowded interchange, Crain’s Chicago Business reported Wednesday.
  • The new route would begin in Milton, WI, run past three cities in IL before reaching the route’s end in  La Porte, IN. A total of 36 interchanges would permit 110 trains a day to bypass Chicago.
  • If approved, the tracks could be up and running within three years. The company’s plan is to charge other railroads to use the new tracks. 

Dive Insight:

As time passes and the Trump administration continues to put infrastructure improvements on the back burner, the busines community is growing increasingly desperate for action. 

Railroads, once a staple of the American city, have long-since struggled to maintain their efficiency in urban zones. High surface transportation traffic, accidents and preference for passenger rail over freight in some stations has had negative impacts on carriers’ on-time performance. For that reason, and more, some in the industry advocate for rail to move out of cities altogether despite further travel distances. The sticker, however, is that such proposals require vast investments few railroads are willing to make themselves.

In a study of the issues for freight rail, the Congressional Budget Office proposed various funding policies for improved freight rail infrastructure, including public subsidies and tax options. As usual, the problem is more about who will pay for it than about its urgency. The Chicago proposal, if approved, would solve that problem.

However, the model is a single solution to what some consider a nationally failing infrastructure that slows economic progress.

The Northeast Corridor is suffering from a $38 billion backlog of needed improvements, according to a recent report. Although just $29 billion is needed in the short term, only $9 billion is currently available via state, commuter, and Amtrak-related funding.   

Improvements are not the only obstacle, however. In Texas, outdated policies on truck weight limits are hampering the State’s staple petrochemical industry, according to a recent Houston Chronicle column. Drivers transporting high-demand petrochemicals must currently travel with partial loads so as not to exceed the 80,000-pound weight limit. Seeking a solution, a recently introduced bill suggests a special transportation corridor to handle petrochemical transit, where truckers could purchase special permits to use the road and therefore fund the project. 

As the nation awaits a federal plan to boost infrastructure, states and business communities are taking matters into their own hands, particularly where the situation is considered unmanageable.

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