Amtrak panel lays out plans to improve Chicago w/Video

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CHICAGO — Bringing together rail traffic control dispatchers now separated by thousands of miles, improved operating practices by Amtrak and other railroads, and funding for priority projects already identified in Northern Illinois and Indiana are top recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Panel appointed by Amtrak in response to massive "Chicago Gateway" delays to passenger and freight traffic.

The panel, chosen last year by Amtrak President and Chief Executive Joe Boardman, reported its findings with two university and policy groups Thursday in Chicago. The panel released a study it commissioned that shows the Chicago congestion problem creates an economic vulnerability of up to $799 billion every year, impacting six key industries constituting 85 percent of U.S domestic product.

The named industries are agriculture and natural resources, automotive, manufacturing, retail and services. The congestion challenge in Chicago poses the largest potential economic vulnerability to the U.S. economy of all the major rail hubs in the United States and industry observers have referred to Chicago as America's "rail traffic speed bump."

"The panel interviewed experts with the freight rail industry, Metra commuter rail, the states of Illinois, Indiana and Michigan and others and the verdict was unanimous: the implications of failing to act are dire for the economy of the nation in general and the Chicago area in particular," Boardman said.

The panel's report, the study it commissioned from Frost & Sullivan and MSY Analytics, animations showing the benefits of various projects and a video overview are available to the public.

"Our customers deserve to have on time performance on their trains, so that's number one," Boardman continued. "We're also looking for a consistent solution; we don't want to run into this every year, two years or five years."

Boardman accepted the panel's recommendations and said Amtrak will continue to make certain it operates effectively in hopes other carriers will take similar steps. He offered space in Chicago Union Station for a dispatching facility to bring together the rail dispatchers now scattered from Chicago and the suburbs to Texas, Nebraska and Minnesota.

Boardman said the cases need to be made in Congress, Statehouses and elsewhere for a Chicago Gateway Initiative to address passenger and freight railroad issues rooted in the Midwest. This is similar to the New York Gateway Initiative to address similar issues in the Northeast, where Amtrak has been participating in detailed talks regarding funding and has made investments.


The full report is available from Amtrak's website.

— from an Amtrak news release Oct. 1, 2015.
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