Chicago continues to be a critical transportation hub in the United States. A recent short interview in Chicago said 70% of American rail traffic moves through the Chicago area and 6 of the Class I railroads in the United States run through the region. Here is a description of Class I railroads from the Department of the Interior:
There were 554 common carrier freight railroads operating in the United States in 2002, classified into five groups.
Class I railroads are those with operating revenue of at least $272 million in 2002. Class I carriers comprise only 1 percent of the number of U.S. freight railroads, but they account for 70 percent of the industry’s mileage operated, 89 percent of its employees, and 92 percent of its freight revenue. Class I carriers typically operate in many different states and concentrate largely (though not exclusively) on long-haul, high-density intercity traffic lanes. There are seven Class I railroads ranging in size from just over 3,000 to more than 33,000 miles operated and from 2,600 to more than 46,000 employees.
Here are the seven Class I carriers: “The Burlington Northern and Santa Fe (BNSD); CSX Transportation (CSX); Grand Trunk Corporation, which consists of the U.S. operations of Canadian National (CN), including the former Grand Trunk Western (GTW), Illinois Central (IC), and Wisconsin Central; Kansas City Southern (KCS); Norfolk Southern (NS); The former Soo Line (800) owned by Canadian Pacific (CP); Union Pacific (UP).”
Of course, this can lead to a number of issues:
1. The Chicago region has a large number of at-grade crossings and long freight trains are a nuisance for many drivers, particularly in denser areas.
2. This requires a lot of space to transfer cargo. In recent years, the newer intermodal facilities have moved further out from the city of Chicago with new facilities in Rochelle (west of DeKalk, south of Rockford) and the Joliet Arsenal.
3. Freight tracks closer to the city can be congested, delaying passenger trains.
The trick for the railroads (and others?) is to remind residents of the Chicago how important railroads are for transporting goods. In recent years, there has some more advertising about this, particularly touting the greener use of fuel compared to trucking. But more could be done within the region to provide evidence that Chicago continues to be important partly because of this traffic.