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Illinois wins $132m INFRA grant to help untangle Midwest's worst rail junction
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Illinois wins $132m INFRA grant to help untangle Midwest's worst rail junction

The program to untangle the national railroad network’s Gordian knot on Chicago’s south side has won a $132 million federal Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant for the 75th Street Corridor Improvement Project (CIP).

This investment from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) will help separate several freight and passenger rail lines in the Englewood, Auburn Gresham and West Chatham neighborhoods that currently intersect and create significant delays, train idling and congestion.

The 75th Street CIP will open the most congested rail chokepoint in the region, Belt Junction, where 32 commuter and passenger (Metra, Amtrak) and 98 freight trains per day cross each other's paths.

Currently railroads cross each other at grade; at two separate locations, six- and five-track routes narrow to two tracks; viaducts are in poor condition, forcing slower train speeds and creating hazards for drivers and pedestrians; rail junctions are too closely spaced, forcing trains to stop outside the corridor because if a train stops for one junction it automatically blocks another; and freight and Metra trains often conflict with each other at junctions, resulting in frustrating delays for commuters.

By physically separating these crossings, this project will allow many more trains to pass through without delays, eliminating the choke points that today back up trains for miles beyond the project area and into many other city neighborhoods. When completed, the project 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.

"The 75th Street Corridor Improvement Project INFRA grant will enable the CREATE public private partnership to significantly improve freight and passenger rail through the Midwest and our national rail system.  We thank U.S. DOT and all stakeholders who assisted in this collaborative effort," said MIPRC Chair Beth McCluskey, who is director of the Illinois Department of Transportation's Office of Intermodal Project Implementation.

The INFRA grant application was submitted in November by IDOT on behalf of the CREATE partners, including IDOT, Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), Cook County, Association of American Railroads (AAR), Metra, Amtrak and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP).

MIPRC strongly supported the application (see our previous story, here).

The $132 million federal award leverages $111 million from IDOT, $116 million from AAR, $78 million from Cook County, $23 million from Metra, $9 million from the city of Chicago and $5 million from Amtrak for a total investment of $474 million. This investment will complete the first half of the overall 75th Street Corridor Improvement Project.

Projects in the 75th St. CIP include:
• Construction of a new double-track connection and crossovers between the Belt Railway of Chicago and the CSX/Indiana Harbor Belt in Summit, Illinois, and adding capacity to the Argo Yard.
• Final design and construction of a new flyover at Forest Hill Junction that will carry CSX tracks over the Belt Railway of Chicago and Metra’s Southwest Service line. 
• Final design and construction of a new road/rail grade separation at 71st Street.
• Final design of track realignments and relocations to eliminate a five-to-two track bottleneck at Belt Junction and rebuild the 80th Street Junction; relocating Union Pacific tracks to an unused portion of Norfolk Southern right-of-way, adding Positive Train Control; adding a new track for Metra service; and viaduct repairs.
• Final design of a new flyover to connect Metra’s Southwest Service to its Rock Island Service, enabling Southwest trains to relocate from Union Station to the LaSalle Street Terminal (which is currently used only by Rock Island trains) thus opening more capacity for Amtrak at Union Station.

The Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency Program (CREATE) – a public/private partnership between the freight railroads, Metra, the city of Chicago, the state of Illinois, Amtrak and the U.S. DOT – was formed in 2003 to help solve this and several other problems in and around Chicago, some inherited from the ways in which the rail lines were laid out in the 1800s and early 1900s.

The CREATE Program is a first-of-its-kind multimodal public-private partnership to improve the rail and roadway transportation network within the Chicago region through the completion of 70 interrelated infrastructure projects. To date, 29 CREATE projects have been completed, with five more projects under construction and 17 in various stages of design.

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