$8 billion to reroute most freight traffic around Chicago suburbs

The railroad bottleneck in Chicago is real but a new proposal suggests a way to route much of the freight traffic around the outer edges of the region:

In the 21st century, the plan by Great Lakes Transportation Inc. is rare to the point of being unbelievable: Building an $8 billion, 278-mile-long, two-track freight railroad through northeastern Illinois…

But most of the more than 400 people who showed up Tuesday morning at a federal “scoping” hearing in Belvidere weren’t thinking about convenience to people living 50 miles to the east in the suburbs. Many wore stickers showing their opposition to the project, called the Great Lakes Basin Rail Line.

Instead, they told the U.S. Surface Transportation Board’s environmental studies staff that such a railroad would split up farms that have been owned by their families for 100 years. That it would threaten underground water supplies with pollution from spilled chemicals, would slow local ambulance crews and firefighters, would take the world’s best soil out of agricultural production, would lower their property values, could cause drainage problems on their farmland and would fill their quiet rural townships with train noise.

Great Lakes Basin Transportation Inc. is headed by former software entrepreneur Frank Patton and reportedly is supported by 14 investors. The proposed railroad is designed to give the area’s six “Class I” railroads — BNSF, Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern, CSX, Canadian National and Canadian Pacific, plus the small Wisconsin & Southern Railway — a way to send long-distance freight trains around metropolitan Chicago rather than through it.

This is still is years from becoming a reality with the number of studies that would need to be completed as well as the actual funding and construction. Yet, it will be interesting to see how the concerns of these property owners are weighed against the interests of the entire Chicago region. Many communities would be very happy with this chance to see fewer freight trains. For some reason, this reminds me of some of the property owners near O’Hare Airport who have put up a consistent fight against expansion even as such plans would benefit the entire region.

In the long run, I would assume the interests of these property owners will matter less than the funding and completion issues that come from such a massive project.

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