But the promise of faster passenger rail is inextricably linked to the down-and-dirty business of freight. To make passenger and commuter trains move faster, you have to get the boxcars out of the way. And to do that, there needs to be more work done on the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) Program to improve freight, passenger and automobile traffic, according to U.S. Rep. Daniel Lipinski.
"You cannot have efficient passenger train
service without the freight rail out of the way," Lipinski said.
"They're all using the same track."
Rick Harnish, executive
director of the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, agrees that
finishing the CREATE projects is essential for higher-speed passenger
rail and for the freight industry. Demand for freight rail service is
expected to double in the next 20 years, and Chicago is still the
country's freight hub.
"It's kind of invisible and hard to
describe, but [CREATE] is really critical to the future of almost
anything that moves by train in the country," Harnish said.
father and congressional predecessor, William Lipinski, was a champion
of the CREATE program, which got started in 2003. Since the project is
regarded as Bill Lipinski's child, Dan Lipinski jokingly calls CREATE
The 71 CREATE projects are intended to make
freight traffic more efficient, through track and signal upgrades, and
to keep freight, passenger rail and road traffic out of each other's
way. One project under construction in Blue Island, for example,
involves building a third line from Broadway and 131st Street to 115th
Street, to allow easier flow-through for freight, says Blue Island
Mayor Don Peloquin.
The $2.5-billion CREATE program got off to a
slow start -- its private and government partners had hoped Congress
would appropriate about $900 million in the 2005 transportation funding
bill, but the law gave less than $100 million. Freight railroads kicked
in another $116 million, and the City of Chicago has committed $30
million. As of now, six projects have been completed, and five are
The money picture has gotten brighter over the last
year, said Lipinski. The State of Illinois included $300 million for
CREATE in its capital bill, along with $150 million for Amtrak
expansion and $400 million for high-speed rail. CREATE supporters hope
for $300 million in federal stimulus money through a grant, as well as
money from the next federal surface transportation bill.
Obama administration has promised $8 billion for high-speed rail
projects around the country. Illinois hopes to get a piece of that, and
Lipinski says he thinks Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood understands
Chicago's freight rail issues and the importance of high speed
passenger rail in the Midwest. High-speed rail money can be used for
Eight Midwest states have cooperated to promote a
high-speed network, with Chicago as its hub, that would link 12
metropolitan areas within 400 miles.
Lipinski points to 10
specific CREATE projects that need to get done to make way for
high-speed rail. They include the Englewood rail-over-rail flyover at
63rd Street, which would cut rail delays between Metra's Rock Island
District, Amtrak and proposed new freight operations. This also would
help high-speed rail corridors to the east.
Other key projects
are grade separations of the BNSF freight line from Belmont Road in
Downers Grove, Harlem Avenue in Berwyn and Maple Avenue in Brookfield.
future is very bright," Lipinski said, though he wants the Obama
administration to move faster on the next transportation bill, which
Lipinski says will create millions of jobs. U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar
(D-Minn.) has a six-year bill ready to go, but the Obama administration
has said it wants to delay writing a new bill for 18 months.