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Durbin, Obama Ask Congress to Fund Chicago Rail Modernization

Location: Washington, DC


U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Barack Obama (D-IL) today sent a letter to the leaders of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Chairman Kit Bond (R-MO) and Ranking Democrat Patty Murray (D-WA) urging them to fund the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency Program (CREATE). CREATE is designed to modernize the Chicago railroad system and would significantly reduce rail and motorist traffic congestion, protect and promote local economic development, and decrease dependence on foreign crude oil.

"Chicago is at the crossroads of the nation's rail network, but rail congestion not only ties up traffic and adds to pollution, it threatens our economic growth," said Durbin. "Our antiquated rail systems could cost Chicago businesses $2 billion and 17,000 jobs over the next twenty years."

"Congress needs to do its part to ensure that rail traffic remains a safe and efficient means of moving cargo across the country," said Obama. "This modernization of our rail systems in the Chicago area will help grow our economy and is crucial if Illinois is to remain the crossroads of our nation."

The $1.5 billion CREATE program was designed as a public-private partnership to decrease congestion in the Chicago area by removing 25 grade crossings and 6 rail to rail crossings by building flyovers or underpasses. So far CREATE has only received about 5 percent of what it needs in recent federal funding measures.

Durbin and Obama noted that lengthy transit times have discouraged Chicago area businesses from using rail transport and has caused them turn to more costly truck transport. In the letter, the Illinois lawmakers explain that CREATE would increase rail traffic speed "from 9 miles per hour to 15 miles per hour, saving shippers $40 million per year in reduced inventory costs." Furthermore, if congested rail areas, known as "choke points" were reduced and "10% of goods currently shipped via truck were instead shipped by rail, fuel savings would approach one billion gallons per year". With these improvements, rail transport would become a clear alternative to trucking for Chicago area businesses.

CREATE would also help Chicago area residents commuting by Metra, Amtrak or car save a significant amount of time and money. Today, the average Chicago area motorist spends 300% more time in traffic than they did 20 years ago. In today's letter, Durbin and Obama noted that CREATE would save commuters "3,000 hours per day in lost time idling at railroad crossings . . .and the decrease in motorist delays at railroad crossings would reduce carbon monoxide emissions another 400 million tons by 2042." Metra commuters would also benefit, with $190 million in time savings.

"If we are going to get serious about reducing our dependence of foreign oil, we need to take a close look at how our urban transportation infrastructure operates," said Durbin. "Rail transport is more than three times more energy efficient than truck transport. It is time to modernize the Chicago rail system and lay the foundation for future energy savings."

June 1, 2006

Chairman Christopher S. Bond
Subcommittee on Transportation,
Treasury, and HUD Appropriations
130 Dirksen Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Ranking Member Patty Murray
Subcommittee on Transportation,
Treasury, and HUD Appropriations
128 Dirksen Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Chairman Bond and Ranking Member Murray:

As the Subcommittee considers the Fiscal Year (FY) 2007 Transportation, Treasury, Judiciary, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations measure, we write to express our strong support for $350 million to fully fund the Capital Grants program for Rail Line Relocation and Improvement projects at the Department of Transportation. This program would provide grants for relocation or grade separation of rail tracks that are interfering with a community's motor vehicle traffic flow, its quality of life, or its economic development.

This program was authorized by Section 9002 of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) in 2005. Under this measure, Congress authorized $350 million per year from FY 2006 through FY 2009, but subsequent appropriations measures and the President's 2007 Budget Proposal have not included funding for this critical program.

By fully funding the Rail Line Relocation and Improvement grant program, Congress could take a significant step toward modernizing our nation's antiquated rail infrastructure and preparing our transportation system to meet the demands of the 21st Century. Rail transportation provides numerous public benefits, including fuel conservation, pollution reduction, relief of traffic congestion, protection of public safety on our nation's highways, and promotion of economic development.

The economic and environmental benefits of hauling goods by rail are clear, as one train can haul an average of 280 truck trailers, and railroads can move one ton of freight an average of 410 miles on just one gallon of fuel. That is more than three times as energy-efficient as trucks moving the same amount of freight. However, in this 21st century on-demand economy, shippers and businesses often eschew moving their goods by rail due to the lengthy transit times caused by congested railroad chokepoints. If these bottlenecks were relieved and 10% of the goods currently shipped by truck were instead shipped by rail, fuel savings would approach one billion gallons per year.

One of these intermodal chokepoints is in Chicago, a region through which nearly one third of the nation's freight rail traffic passes each year. Six of the seven North American Class I freight railroads converge in Chicago, which serves as the switching yard for America's eastern and western railroads. Chicago presently handles more than 37,500 freight rail cars per day and is expected to handle 67,000 freight rail cars daily within 20 years. Chicago also serves more than 2.5 million rail passengers per year as Amtrak's Midwest hub. Likewise, Metra, the region's commuter rail agency, operates 700 trains per week out of its Chicago hub and serves 300,000 city and suburban passengers daily, sharing track with freight rail on 11 of the region's rail lines. This mix of various modes of rail traffic, along with heavy truck and automotive traffic that intersects with these rail lines in the nation's third largest city, often forces the nation's freight rail traffic to come to a halt in the Chicago region.

The $1.5 billion Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) Program was developed as a public-private partnership to help both railroads and the Chicago area cope with this sharp increase in freight volume, while also producing considerable improvements for motorists, commuter rail, and Amtrak passengers. CREATE would unclog the Chicago rail system by building 25 highway to rail grade separations and six rail to rail grade separations. This would allow average rail traffic speeds to increase from 9 miles per hour to 15 miles per hour, saving shippers $40 million per year in reduced inventory costs.

The benefits to the nation would be manifold. Most notably, the CREATE program would reduce the nation's diesel fuel consumption by 7 million gallons per year in the short term and 18 million gallons per year by 2042. Locomotive emissions would be reduced by over 2,000 tons of nitrogen and 500 tons of carbon monoxide, and the decrease in motorist delays at railroad crossings would reduce carbon monoxide emissions another 400 million tons by 2042. Passenger rail commuters would save $190 million worth of time formerly spent on travel delays, and Chicago-area motorists would regain 3,000 hours per day in time formerly lost idling at railroad crossings. This equates to a savings of over 200,000 gallons of gas per year for motorists alone. Moreover, grade separation of highway-rail crossings would reduce the high number of fatal accidents that happen at these intersections each year. In 2005, the Chicago region had the highest number of recorded fatalities at highway-rail crossings in the nation, with 15.

CREATE needs federal rail grant funds such as those authorized in Section 9002 of SAFETEA-LU to successfully finish the program, or else Chicago will lose $2 billion in production and 17,000 jobs over the next two decades. Other rail-intensive cities around America will also witness an economic loss if the Rail Line Relocation and Improvement grant program is not fully funded to help modernize urban rail hubs and combat worsening traffic congestion. The amount of time the average commuter spends in traffic has nearly tripled in the past 20 years and commute times are expected to get much worse, with truck traffic projected to double in the next 20 years.

In order to reduce truck, automotive, and rail traffic congestion, reduce America's dependence on foreign crude oil, expand the use of passenger rail, increase safety, and benefit the nation's economy, the Capitol Grants for Rail Line Relocation and Improvement Program must be fully funded. We respectfully request that the Committee provide the full $350 million authorized in the law. Funding of rail relocation and grade separation projects will yield immense returns on infrastructure investment and move the nation's transportation system closer to peak efficiency well into the 21st Century.

Thank you for your consideration of this request. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or concerns.


Richard J. Durbin
United States Senator

Barack Obama
United States Senator

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