President Preckwinkle and CREATE Partners Announce $132 Million Grant to Improve Rail Congestion across the Region

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Governor Bruce Rauner and the American Association of Railroads, partners of  the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) Program, today announced a $132 million federal grant for the 75th Street Corridor Improvement Project (CIP) in Chicago. 

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. This project is an important step in updating the region’s rail infrastructure and will help increase reliability and efficiency nationally while spurring economic development.

Cook County, through the Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways, committed nearly $80 million to best leverage the federal grant request.  

“As the newest member of the CREATE Program, I am grateful for U.S. Department of Transportation’s Infrastructure For Rebuilding America Grant,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “My administration has prioritized supporting our region’s role as North America’s freight capital and this $132 million enables improved freight and passenger mobility for the most congested rail bottleneck in Cook County and the nation. Creating additional capacity for rail will enable businesses to move their products to market in the U.S. and overseas efficiently and support thousands of jobs.”

Cook County, through the Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways, committed nearly $80 million to best leverage the federal grant request.  Supporting the region’s role as North America’s freight capital is a priority of Cook County’s long range transportation plan, Connecting Cook County.

Additional contributions by private freight railroads, the State of Illinois, the City of Chicago, Metra and Amtrak yield a total investment of $473.7 million for this project.

“Transportation is not just Chicago’s historic strength; it is our competitive advantage for the future," said Mayor Emanuel. "Federal investments in Chicago’s rail system, roadways, waterways and airports create jobs for Chicago residents, strengthen our economy and benefit the entire country. I want to thank all the local, state and federal partners who came together to move full steam ahead on modernizing Chicago’s rail system.”

“This award will result in a significant advance for our transportation system,” Gov. Rauner said. “It means we can finally eliminate the 75th Street bottleneck and start enjoying the commercial benefits that come with modernization and more efficient movement of goods and people through Chicago and Illinois, the nation’s most important transportation hub. It is a tremendous achievement by all of the partners involved.” 

The 75th Street Corridor Improvement Project will eliminate the most congested rail chokepoint in the region, Belt Junction, where 30 commuter and 98 freight trains per day cross each other’s paths.  Currently, only one or two trains can pass through each of these crossings at any given time.  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.

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. 

The INFRA Grant Application for CREATE’s 75th Street CIP Project was submitted by the Illinois Department of Transportation on behalf of the CREATE partners, including the Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways, Chicago Department of Transportation, American Association of Railroads, Metra, Amtrak and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. The Association of American Railroads represents ten of the freight, passenger, and commuter railroads serving the Chicago region. These railroads include freight carriers BNSF Railway, CN Railway, Canadian Pacific, CSX, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific, Belt Railway of Chicago, and Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad, as well as the passenger railroad Amtrak and the commuter railroad Metra.

“This unique partnership improves service for both Chicagoland rail commuters as well as freight rail customers across the country,” said Edward R. Hamberger, President and CEO of the Association of American Railroads. “By leveraging the private-sector investments of the freight railroads, with the contributions of Metra and Amtrak and state, county, city and federal funds, the goals of both the private and public sector partners can be achieved. Today’s funding combined with existing partner commitments will put shovels in the ground to improve the flow of rail traffic through the city and the nation.”

When the 75th Street CIP is complete, it 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.

“Funding the 75th Street CIP represents an incredible opportunity to improve the flow of rail traffic for the entire northeast Illinois region, reducing delays for Metra riders by eliminating a major bottleneck for both commuter and freight trains,” said Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski. “We’re grateful for the support of our Illinois Congressional delegation who clearly recognize the value of this project to the region’s economy and quality of life.”

The Chicago Rail Terminal is a complex rail hub where six Class I railroads converge and share track with ten Metra commuter rail lines and more than a dozen Amtrak passenger rail routes. This hub handles 1,300 freight and passenger trains per day and one-fourth of the nation’s overall rail cargo. Both individually and collectively, the projects in the CREATE Program will significantly improve freight rail, passenger rail, and highway operations in the Chicago metropolitan area, while also providing community mobility, safety, air quality, and economic benefits.