Tag Archives: chicago

FRA’s regional plan to include Ohio-to-Chicago passenger-rail corridor

The Ohio-to-Chicago passenger-rail corridor will be part of the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) regional rail plan for the Midwest, two passenger-rail advocacy organizations announced last week.

Last month, the FRA announced it would commit about $2.8 million toward two regional rail planning projects: the Midwest and Southeast. The Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission (MIPRC) recently received preliminary notification that its November 2014 application to the FRA for a multi-state planning project had been chosen as one of the two planning efforts, the Northeast Indiana Passenger Rail Association (NIPRA) and All Aboard Ohio advocacy groups announced last week on their websites.

The MIPRC submitted its application in response to the FRA’s request for statements of interest in a federally led regional planning process. The commission applied for passenger-rail planning on behalf of several states, including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

MIPRC received more than 90 letters of support, including from participating departments of transportation, cities and counties, MPOs, freight railroads elected officials, unions, universities and other advocacy groups, according to NIPRA.

The FRA will use the funds to engage stakeholders in both regions in forming comprehensive regional governance organizations to sustain current planning, and develop a long-term passenger-rail vision for their respective regions, according to the NIPRA website.

North American Railroads: Consolidation in 2014 and Beyond?


Canadian Pacific Railway CEO and Director E. Hunter Harrison told investors last week that he expects rail consolidation among the largest North American railroads within six years, but his ideas are more than just the usual rumors. One of which is that Kansas City Southern Railway, the smallest of the major railroads, will merge with one of the five other Class I carriers or a third-party that merges two railroads. The major benefit to a KCS buyer would be gaining the only cross-border rail network that connects the U.S. to Mexico’s rapidly growing manufacturing base.

What if each of the western U.S.-based Class I railroads — BNSF Railway and Union Pacific Railroad merge with an eastern counterpart. BNSF or UP, for example, could merge with CSX Transportation or Norfolk Southern Railway. Such a merger wouldn’t “impact the competitive environment,” and shippers would gain better service by having two transcontinental lines. Shippers with access to only one line, who refer to themselves as “captive shippers,” could benefit as well.

Under a dual transcontinental merger scenario, the need for handoffs at the Mississippi River or in Chicago would be reduced, speeding up transit times. The mergers also would reduce corporate costs, because two sets of management would be redundant, and some railyards could be consolidated.

Traditionally, Chicago was the Rail Capital of the United States. Will new Chicago Bypasses develop? What about companies like UPS who rely on Chicago traffic? Union Pacific was created by Abraham Lincoln and Congress to “span the Continent”.Will this happen? A transcontinental merger wouldn’t create major cost savings, nor would it greatly improve service, because interline traffic generally runs smoothly.. Railroads’ differing cultures would only complicate a process. I remember when CSX had just taken over the Selkirk Yard near Albany. There was a blizzard and Selkirk shut down. CSX sent a team of executives to solve the problem. They arrived at the Albany County Airport (built in the 1930’s and not shut because they used strange contraptions called snow plows. These characters arrived in raincoats and rubbers and carrying umbrellas.

The most likely consolidation scenario is a merger or acquisition involving KCS, but the railroad’s high valuation likely is keeping suitors at bay. Acquiring or merging with KCS seven or eight years ago before the railroad’s cross-border business began to take off would have made sense.

The greatest potential for rail consolidation isn’t in the Class I industry but within the small lines that connect to the major railroads. Let’s start with Florida East Coast Railway. Not likely. They are gearing up for the Panama Canal expansion plus their parent company is building a Miami to Orlando passenger train. Just announced purchase of 24 new GE locomotives (see picture at top) .

Genesee & Wyoming, an owner and operator of short lines and regional freight railroads, is best poised to swallow up other lines because the company has access to some $400 million in capital and is the largest strategic player, according to a Stephens research note. Of the 459 privately owned U.S. regional and short lines, which make up about 80 percent of the market, G&W’s network connects with 48 of the lines. Like the larger railroads, many of G&W lines, which total 98 in North America, are seeing intermodal traffic growth.

See more about railroad mergers over history.


What’s still holding back rail service?

Pictured above, The Belt Railway is the largest intermediate switching terminal railroad in the United States, employing approximately 520 people. The Belt has 28 miles of mainline route with more than 300 miles of switching tracks, allowing it to interchange with every railroad serving the Chicago rail hub. The Belt’s Clearing Yards span a 5.5 mile distance among 786 acres, supporting more than 250 miles of track.

When I looked at my inbox and saw an article from Larry Gross at JOC.COM about “What’s still holding back rail service?”, my first thought was Chicago. I was right, He cut right to the chase. Blamed last winter on the polar vortex. Now, I have some great Winter stories on Chicago too. Belt Railway on it’s back, Indiana Harbor Belt stuck in snow, etc.

But then Larry climbed out of winter and points out some of the rest-of-the-year problems with Chicago. Not going to repeat his excellent explanations. Instead, I’m thinking of new ideas today.

Limited space for trains are a problem. Even the Circus Train can’t find a good parking spot for a show in Chicago. Then crowded highways for intermodals to get out of Chicago.

I route an article on Chicago Bypass. No, I’m not going to go out and suggest we bring back the Peoria & Eastern. Once upon a time it was “quicker via Peoria,” 210 direct, unobstructed miles on the Peoria and Eastern between Peoria and Indianapolis instead of 350 miles via Chicago and congestion. Much has changed in the quarter century since the P&E was an unbroken route. For over a century the railroads had an overcapacity problem, one solved by the mid-1990s by increasing traffic and decreasing route-miles.

37,000 freight cars move through the Chicago area every day (CREATE brochure). Some 25% does not originate or terminate there (“Freight Rail Futures,” Chicago Department of Transportation website). That is over 9,000 cars a day, easily 90 or 100 trains, merely moving through the area.

Indiana Harbor Belt's Gibson Yard in 1950
Indiana Harbor Belt’s Gibson Yard in 1950

Do they all have to go through Chicago? Is Chicago always on the shortest, most direct route? Obviously not.

There is a deeply encrusted practice of “long-routing” to increase the originating road’s cut of revenues. Obviously it requires a longer route, with the obvious disadvantages of greater travel time, more expense, less reliable service, and poorer use of now scarce rail resources.

Running everything through Chicago is defended in rail circles on grounds of more frequent connections and keeping crews in position. Those are usually compelling advantages, to be sure, but not always. Bigger is not necessarily better.

Maybe Chicago has seen it’s time as the “intermodal capital”? Again, does all rail freight have to go through Chicago?


We recently wrote about Union Pacific Intermodal Is Really Rolling Along. Let’s think of ways to better accommodate more intermodal.

Louisville and Indianapolis provide some ideas. Like I said above, we are not going to go out and suggest “new” railroads. That is like tilting windmills. The “grand highway” to Indianapolis is NOT a railroad, it is Interstate Highway 65. But I-65 does not start in Chicago. Instead it starts East of Gary, Indiana. Gary has more railroads running through it than you can shake a stick at. Lots of nearby land for intermodal terminals too. Now how can we bypass Chicago? The obvious way is CN’s old Elgin, Joliet & Eastern. Before you say, what would this save? Just drive Interstate 90 going East of Chicago and observe all the trucks turning South on Interstate 65.

Elgin Joliet & Eastern
Elgin Joliet & Eastern

Yes, I know all about railroad mileage and short hauls. Maybe we need to initiate something I will call: a “Negotiated Switching Rate”. This way no railroad gets hurt. Have the government throw some ecology money in there to save the environment.

Can’t believe Western railroads, with a little help, could not block their trains better to cut down on some of the Chicago switching.

Illinois Panel finalizes recommendations to overhaul regional rail transit


A task force formed by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn to examine transit service in the Chicago area has concluded that the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) should be abolished and Metra, the Chicago Transit Authority and Pace be consolidated under a single “integrated” board with three operating units, according to a report submitted to the governor yesterday.

The Northeastern Illinois Public Transit Task Force unanimously adopted the report and recommendations. The panel recommends that a new oversight board be established that would set policies and prioritize transit investments.

In addition, the panel calls for new governance rules, new sources of revenue to help support transit and new performance-based management practices for transit service.

Quinn appointed the task force in August 2013 in the wake of a patronage scandal involving Metra’s board. His executive order called on task force members to make recommendations on ways the region’s transit agencies “can improve their operations, repair the damage done to the public trust and modernize the transit system” for the communities that depend on it.

“If the Chicago region is to be globally competitive it must have a globally competitive transit system,” states the task force’s letter to Quinn. “Currently, we do not. These recommendations will position us to achieve that result.”

In addition to Quinn, the report was sent to the Illinois General Assembly, which would need to change state law in order to alter or abolish the RTA.

The task force’s recommendations can be read here.

Utica Comets Win Over Chicago Wolves


Benn Ferriero and Frankie Corrado had been on the ice for a long while.

Both gave a thought to getting off.

Luckily for the Utica Comets, they didn’t.

Instead, Ferriero, with an eye to the bench, slid the puck ahead to Corrado at the blue line, and the young defenseman skated up through the right circle and fired a shot past Jake Allen with 5:46 to play, giving the Comets the deciding goal in a 2-1 American Hockey League victory over the Chicago Wolves Friday at the Utica Memorial Auditorium.

“I was just looking to go deep with it and I saw Frankie had some legs,” Ferriero said. “He made a good shot.”

Corrado said he was ready to go to the bench, too, but saw an opening and took a chance. But he wasn’t exactly thinking goal.

“I was more looking for a rebound,” he said.

But the puck went over Allen’s blocker and inside the far post, and a few nail-biting minutes later the Comets had their second consecutive victory and a good sendoff for their out-and-back trip to British Columbia to play the Abbotsford Heat Friday and Saturday.

The Comets reached the halfway point of the season at 13-20-2-3, for the moment no longer dead last in the last – 31 points to 29 for Hartford – and 13-12-1-2 since starting the season in an 0-8-1-1 hole.

Nicklas Jensen scored the other Comet goal, with Ferriero and Cal O’Reilly – back after being out for three games – assisting. Joacim Eriksson, just returned from Vancouver, made 22 saves – some fine ones, including a dead-on stop of Alexandre Bolduc with three seconds left – in a great duel with Allen, an AHL all-star who was sensational most of the night.

Read more: http://www.uticaod.com/article/20140121/SPORTS/140129792/1020/SPORTS#ixzz2r9jdzrPC


Chicago CTA RED LINE reopens October 20th


City of Chicago and state of Illinois officials are gearing up for the Oct. 20 reopening of the Chicago Transit Authority‘s (CTA) Red Line South, which will mark the completion of a $425 million modernization project.

The 10.2-mile stretch between Cermak-Chinatown and 95th Street will reopen on schedule after being closed for five months during the rebuilding of track and eight stations along the line, which serves Chicago’s South Side, CTA officials said in a press release.

“The reconstruction of the Red Line South is an historic investment in both the Red Line — the backbone of the CTA rail system — as well as the many communities it serves on Chicago’s South Side,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “This brand new railroad will provide faster and more comfortable commutes, and is an important step toward creating a 21st century transit experience for commuters.”

The CTA was the first U.S. transit agency to entirely remove and replace such a large stretch of railroad in a tight timeframe and with an extensive alternative service plan, CTA officials said. Originally opened in 1969, the Red Line South was reconstructed from the ground up, including all rails, ties, ballast, drainage systems and signaling equipment.

The improvements are expected to trim up to 20 minutes off the round-trip commute between 95th Street and downtown Chicago, CTA officials said.