US sets aside $132 million for Chicago rail project

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CHICAGO — The U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded $132 million for a major railroad improvement program on Chicago’s South Side that officials say will cut freight and commuter train delays, decrease train idling and improve air quality, officials announced Tuesday.

The program, the 75th Street Corridor Improvement Project, is the largest project in the broader Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency, or CREATE, a public-private partnership intended to reduce rail congestion in the Chicago network, the nation’s busiest rail hub. CREATE includes some 70 projects.

The 75th Street CIP is projected to cost $1 billion, but no funding has been identified for the total project. The environmental analysis phase is complete and the project is ready to proceed into the final design phase.

This project is an important step in updating the region’s rail infrastructure and will help increase reliability and efficiency nationally, according to U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., whose district includes the project and who has been its chief sponsor in Washington.

Lipinski is the senior Illinois member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which announced the grants being awarded as part of the program now known as the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America program, formerly known as the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act of 2015.

The funding will help separate several freight and passenger rail lines in Chicago’s Englewood, Auburn Gresham, and West Chatham neighborhoods that currently intersect and create significant delays, train idling, and congestion, officials said.

According to CREATE, when the 75th Street CIP is complete, it will eliminate 18,500 annual passenger hours of delay by removing conflicts between freight and commuter trains, increase capacity at Union Station, decrease train idling, improve air quality in the surrounding neighborhoods, and replace or rehabilitate 36 viaducts for increased mobility.

“This is a big win for the Chicago area,” Lipinski said in a statement. “The CREATE program is critical to our region in creating jobs, boosting the economy, improving Metra and Amtrak service, and alleviating blocked rail crossings. Since I was able to secure the initial $100 million grant to begin CREATE in 2005, we have made significant progress in this public-private partnership with federal funding leading the way. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to secure further funding and complete CREATE.”

Including the initial $100 million, Lipinski’s office said he has worked to secure $633 million for CREATE.

The CIP project will benefit Metra, Chicago’s commuter rail agency, by allowing the 30 weekday SouthWest Service trains from Union Station to LaSalle Street Station, thereby releasing slots for additional Metra and Amtrak trains on the south side of Chicago Union Station.

The project will also improve infrastructure in the corridor and moving the SouthWest Service out of Union Station will allow Metra to increase the number of trains serving this fast-growing line.

In addition, adding a second Metra track in the Corridor and eliminating at-grade train conflicts is projected to reduce delays by more than 50 percent. Passenger travel times through the corridor will be reduced by 18 percent, Metra says.

“Funding the 75th Street CIP represents an incredible opportunity to improve the flow of rail traffic for the entire northeast Illinois region, reducing delays for Metra riders by eliminating a major bottleneck for both commuter and freight trains,” Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski said in a statement.

“We’re grateful for the support of our Illinois Congressional delegation who clearly recognize the value of this project to the region’s economy and quality of life,” Derwinski said.

Edward Hamberger, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads, also welcomed the funding.

“This unique partnership improves service for both Chicagoland rail commuters as well as freight rail customers across the country," Hamberger said. “CREATE is a poster child for public-private partnerships aimed at increasing efficiency through the heart of the U.S. rail network — Chicago."
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