Amtrak Panel’s Plan to Fix Chicago Rail Gridlock

An Amtrak Blue Ribbon Panel formed in 2014 that included Nossaman partner Linda Morgan has released a report recommending how to fix the Chicago-freight traincongestion plaguing Chicago’s rail network.  As the hub of the U.S. rail network, the gridlock in Chicago has ripple effects throughout the nation.

As part of its year-long investigation of the causes and potential solutions to Chicago’s gridlock, the panel met with nearly 100 stakeholders and rail experts.  The panel’s report resulting from these efforts includes the following recommendations:

  • Ensure real-time coordination among Chicago’s 10 passenger and freight railroads, including dispatchers from multiple railroads working together at a single location;
  • Continue efforts to improve operating performance and coordination at Chicago Union Station;
  • Provide adequate and sustained public funding for vital projects;
  • Prioritize the CREATE 75th Street Corridor and Grand Crossing projects;
  • Make additional investments on the Porter, Indiana to Chicago Corridor (beyond the current Indiana Gateway Project);
  • Encourage use of innovative financing through reforms to the federal Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) loan program; and
  • Make the environmental review requirements applicable to rail projects consistent among all transportation modes, enhance interagency coordination on reviews, and prioritize projects of national importance.

Though the panel recognized the cost and effort needed to implement its recommendations, it noted that without additional action, the current gridlock will only worsen.  At the prospect of inaction to address this problem, the panel said the following:

If aggressive action is not taken now to address what may well be our country’s most significant transportation bottleneck, the adverse national, regional and local impacts on passenger and freight rail transportation, and on the economy, will be enormous.

The enormity of this impact is underscored by a study commissioned by the panel which estimated that roughly $650-$800 billion of the U.S. annual gross domestic product is dependent upon freight rail service through Chicago.

In addition to Morgan, who previously chaired the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, the panel included Thomas Carper, an Amtrak Board member, Howard Learner, founder of the Environmental Law & Policy Center and former Congressman John Francis Jack Quinn, who served as chairman of the Railroads Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

A copy of the report, a study the panel commissioned and a video regarding the report can be found at http://www.amtrak.com/ChicagoGateway.

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