A freight train more than 10,000 feet long, hauling hundreds of shipping containers, sits idle in residential Chicago. It’s the middle of the afternoon, and the CSX train is just parked there. Waiting.
At this stretch of railroad, known as the 75th Street Corridor, that scene plays out day after day. Freight trains spend hours waiting for commuter and Amtrak trains to clear a single intersection, blocking their path and preventing the delivery of goods.
The corridor sits in an urban neighborhood southwest of downtown Chicago. It’s widely considered the worst choke point for rail movement in the city, which is the busiest rail hub in the nation. With hundreds of billions of dollars in goods traveling through Chicago by rail every year, each minute those freight trains are stalled, companies and consumers alike are losing money or being forced to spend more for the goods those trains haul.
Down the track from the stationary CSX train, a Metra commuter train rumbles through the worst part of the corridor: Forest Hill Junction, a six-track intersection shared by Amtrak, commuter, and freight rail. A few minutes later, another Metra train rolls through. Because these commuter trains run perpendicular to the track the freight train uses — and almost always have the right of way — the freight has to wait.
“It really is the Gordian knot of Chicago that has to be untangled,” Tom Livingston, a CSX vice president for government affairs, told Business Insider. “It would be like two major interstates meeting each other at a four-way stop sign.”
After a half hour or so, a whistle rings out. The freight train shudders and groans as the conductor nudges it into motion. Finally, slowly, it’s back on its way, moving goods through the city.
“It really is impactful on the entire nation in terms of moving traffic through,” Livingston said. “You have freight moving at every point on the compass, and a lot of it.”
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