Chicago as ongoing railroad hub: one quarter of freight trains pass through the region

With Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in Chicago yesterday, the Chicago Tribune provided this context for the need for infrastructure money in the region:

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His next stop was the CSX Bedford Park Intermodal Yard with Gov. Pritzker, and U.S. Reps. Marie Newman, of La Grange, and Mike Quigley, of Chicago planning to join him.

The event was an opportunity for Buttigieg to talk up how Biden’s infrastructure plan calls for billions in investments to improve freight and passenger rail infrastructure.

The CSX terminal, the nation’s third largest by volume, serves domestic and international intermodal freight. One of every four U.S. freight trains passes through Chicago., according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Chicago area residents can catch glimpses of some of these intermodal areas, often on the side of major highways, and they certainly know about the frieght trains that can block their roadways. But, how many know that 25% of national freight traffic passes through the region?

Even as motor vehicles and airplanes came to dominate landscapes – and Chicago has plenty of traffic and one of the busiest airports – the railroad continues to provide food, consumer goods, and transportation. Chicago’s status as a leading global city partly depends on it. The economy of the United States partly depends on it.

The railroad was one very important reason for Chicago’s rise. With its location on the southwest corner of Lake Michigan, Chicago quickly became a railroad hub for connecting the Northeast to a growing Midwest as well as Western expansion and all of its abundance.

The railroad can be an inconvenience. News of railroad traffic increasing in the region can induce concerns from residents and community leaders. But, the railroad traffic in the region at large helps the region as a whole.

How garbage is moved out of suburbs

With suburban residents expressing concerns about a possible waste transfer station, this Daily Herald article explains how suburban garbage reaches its final destination:

Photo by Leonid Danilov on

The waste transfer station would allow filled garbage trucks to temporarily dump refuse on the ground. The refuse would be hauled away from the site by semi trucks to landfills, meaning no garbage would be stored at the West Chicago facility.

Suburbanites do not want to think about or smell garbage around their single-family homes. They want to be able to put out the cans, have it picked up quickly with little fuss or noise, and then taken away. All at minimal cost and inconvenience to their life.

Yet, Americans generate a lot of garbage. Packaging. Wasted food and food scraps. Plastic everything. Old clothes. Accumulated junk. The weekly garbage pick-up has to happen and the garbage has to go somewhere. Just keep it away from the nice residential neighborhoods.

Hence, the need for a waste transfer station. After making their daily rounds, the trucks need a central point where they can put their garbage. Landfills would not be acceptable near many suburban communities. The transfer station is just that: the garbage is transferred to another truck to take to the far-off landfill.

Of course, it may not always have been like this. The landfills used to be closer before the suburbs kept growing further and further out from the city. Not too far from the proposed waste transfer facility suburbanites can find old landfills now serving as parks.

Presumably, the current landfills are sufficiently far from suburban residences that the suburbanites have little knowledge of where the garbage goes and fewer people live near the new sites. All the suburbanites know is that the garbage is gone – until the next trash day.