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Lawmakers eye Chicago's railway bottleneck
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Lawmakers eye Chicago's railway bottleneck
« on: May 23rd, 2003, 4:38pm »
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Lawmakers eye Chicago's railway bottleneck  
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Concerned about the bottleneck Chicago has become for the nation's freight rail transportation system, members of Illinois' congressional delegation are leading a push to generate federal funds to deal with the problem, according to this Associated Press report by Dennis Conrad.  
Under a proposal already embraced by 10 of the state's House members, a variety of taxes and fees largely affecting the railroad industry would create a reliable revenue stream of $3.3 billion annually for what would be a new rail trust fund.  
The money would go to meet nationwide needs of passenger, commuter and freight rails, with Illinois garnering over $195 million a year.  
But the plan's chief sponsor, Rep. Bill Lipinski, D-Chicago, said its primary purpose is to address the freight train issue in his back yard.  
"It's been often said that it takes two days to move from Los Angeles to Chicago and it takes another two days to get through Chicago and move on to the East Coast," he said. "We have a very severe problem there. The problem is the No. 1 freight rail bottleneck in the country, perhaps in the world."  
The problem includes rail yard backups, endless truck traffic, highway congestion, and commuter train delays, according to a 2002 study by Business Leaders for Transportation, a group representing some 10,000 employers in the Chicago region.  
Each day, about 37,500 rail freight cars move through the area at an average speed of 7 mph to 12 mph. Some 3,500 daily truck trips are made between rail yards so cargo may continue onward by train. Nearly 2,000 at-grade railroad crossings add to the headaches and so do predictions that train traffic will jump 80 percent in 20 years.  
The problem in the Chicago metropolitan area is so huge it would take billions of dollars to fix, according to Steve Laffey, a transportation policy analyst for the Illinois Commerce Commission. Easily more than 100 grade crossings could be upgraded, he said. Planners have recommended 40 for improvements and each could cost $25 million at a time when Illinois spends statewide only about $40 million a year on such work.  
Officials with the state, city of Chicago and rail industry have discussed a long-term, $1.2 billion construction program, and the industry appears ready to provide $200 million, but other sources are uncertain, Lipinski said.  
John Schwalbach, the Illinois Department of Transportation's bureau chief for railroads, said the state does not rule out providing money, but the private sector and federal government must take the lead.  
Tom White, spokesman for the American Association of Railroads, declined to discuss details of ongoing talks with city and state officials. He said the industry already has invested several hundred million dollars for infrastructure work in the Chicago area in recent years and has seen improvements in tackling the congestion.  
The railroads do not support creating a rail trust fund that would rely on user fees and taxes on their industry, arguing it would be inefficient, especially when controlled by politicians and bureaucrats.  
"It would do little to raise new capital for the railroad industry," White said. "You'd be taking money from the railroads to Washington."  
The industry also wants repeal of a 4.3 cent per gallon diesel fuel tax it now pays.  
Illinois' Senators -- Democrat Dick Durbin and Republican Peter Fitzgerald -- hope Congress will approve funding to help with freight rail congestion when it approves a new, six-year surface transportation bill this year, although President Bush has proposed nothing for such needs.  
"Unless we are an efficient hub for moving commerce, it's going to move business away from Chicago," Durbin said.  
(The preceding Associated Press report by Dennis Conrad was distributed Friday, May 23, 2003.)  
May 23, 2003  


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