Railroads commit to fund latest CREATE project in Chicago for more than $400 million

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With the diamonds at Forest Hill Junction in the background, Bill Thompson of the Association of American Railroads, in hard hat, and Metra Chief Engineering Officer Bruce Marcheschi explain the elements of CREATE’s 75th Street Corridor project. The project will begin with construction of a flyover at Forest Hill Junction.
TRAINS: David Lassen
Members of a media tour of CREATE projects watch a Metra SouthWest Service train cross the diamonds at Forest Hill Junction. A flyover at this location is slated to be the first part of CREATE's massive 75th Street Corridor project.
TRAINS: David Lassen
CHICAGO — The beginning of the end is near for the most congested rail chokepoint in the nation’s busiest rail hub, Chicago area transportation officials say.

Funding is finally in place to begin design work on the Forest Hill Flyover on Chicago’s South Side, where four Belt Railway of Chicago, Norfolk Southern, and Metra tracks are crossed at grade by CSX Transportation’s two-track Blue Island subdivision.

The breakthrough came in June with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s award of a $132 million Infrastructure or Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant.

On Wednesday, officials from the state, Cook County, city of Chicago, Metra and Amtrak heralded their public-private partnership with six freight railroads in a program called CREATE, for Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency. They sponsored a media tour to call the public’s attention to benefits that will derive from the grant money.

“This is the start of something big,” says Randy Blankenhorn, Illinois Department of Transportation secretary. “This (funding) investment will pay huge benefits over the years.”

The Forest Hill Flyover and four adjacent projects comprise the 75th Street Corridor Improvement Project, on the city’s South Side, which is designed to alleviate congestion by separating freight and passenger rail lines to eliminate bottlenecks, reduce delays, cut train idling and improve reliability for commuters and freight traffic.

The corridor sees much of the 1,300 to 1,400 train movements through the Chicago area daily, officials said.

Specifically, the Forest Hill Flyover will eliminate conflicts between 30 SouthWest Service Metra trains and some 35 freight trains operating on CSX’s Western Avenue Corridor. The CSX tracks will be elevated over the Belt, NS, and Metra tracks.

Metra commuter trains will no longer be delayed by freight trains at the junction, and trains will no longer be held up by the “Chicago Protocol,” which limits freight movements during morning and evening hours to facilitate commuter trains, says Bruce Marcheschi, Metra’s chief engineering officer.

Metra will also benefit from construction of an additional main line, and SouthWest Service will connect with the existing Rock Island District tracks, allowing SouthWest Service trains access to LaSalle Street Station instead of Union Station, he says.

The design process is estimated to take two years, with construction taking another two years, says Bill Thompson, chief engineer for CREATE for the Association of American Railroads, which is coordinating the railroads’ participation.

The corridor project also includes a new road/rail at-grade separation at 71st Street; and the Argo connections, a new double track connection and crossovers between the Belt Railway of Chicago and Indiana Harbor Belt/CSX line at Archer and 63rd streets in Summit, Ill.

All together, the project is estimated to cost $474 million. In addition to the INFRA grant, $116 million is coming from six railroads: BNSF, Canadian Pacific, Canadian National, CSX, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific. The state of Illinois is providing $111 million; Cook County, $78 million; and Chicago, $9 million. Finally, Metra is funding $23 million and Amtrak is providing $5 million.

Separately, construction is set to begin on a $65-million grade separation on Columbus Avenue, about a mile from Forest Hill.

Of the 70 CREATE projects, 29 have been completed at a cost of $1 billion, Thompson says. The price tag for all CREATE projects will run about $4.4 billion.

Perhaps the highlight of CREATE so far is the 2014 completion of the $142 million Englewood Flyover, which carries Metra Rock Island Line trains over the tracks used by approximately 60 NS freight and 14 Amtrak trains a day.

“Our goal has been to ensure that the partners, including the railroads, contribute commensurate with their benefits,” Thompson says.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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