Still looking for money to solve Chicago freight rail traffic congestion

Illinois politicians can occasionally work together: they are still searching for funds to tackle freight rail congestion.

In an unusual display of local bipartisan unity, 13 of Illinois’ 18 U.S. House members have signed a letter urging that any new federal transportation bill include guaranteed funding to decongest the Chicago area’s crowded freight rail network.

The letter, sent to the chairman and ranking member of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, comes at a critical time, as Congress shows signs of both finally producing a long-term funding bill and remaining stuck in a stalemate that has persisted for most of a decade…

But key rail hubs including Chicago received inadequate funding in prior bills, the letter says. To alleviate that, not only is a dedicated funding stream needed, but spending should focus on metropolitan areas, include access to multimodal facilities and allow for a competitive grant program for “complex mega-projects that have significant national and regional economic and quality of life benefits.”

That appears to be a reference to this area’s Create program, which has been only partially funded.

The funding shortfall continues even as the Chicago region handles a lot of train traffic. This has both local effects (blocked crossings) and national consequences (delayed freight traffic). However, the problem doesn’t get much attention: the freight traffic is distributed across railroad lines and facilities, the public doesn’t know much about it (outside of seeing block crossings as a nuisance) or doesn’t see it (intermodal facilities are big but often hidden), and a variety of levels of government aren’t exactly rolling in a lot of money to be spent on infrastructure (and there are other infrastructure matters requiring attention as well).

At what point would it be reasonable to ask the rail companies to fund some of these needed improvements? While this is important and costly infrastructure, couldn’t money be saved if someone acted sooner rather than later?

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