Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Great Lakes Basin RR Bypass of the Chicago Terminal Area

I've discussed routes that could have been used to bypass the Chicago area such as ferries across Lake Michigan, the east end of the Kankakee Belt: 1 & 2, and Kankakee and Seneca.

An $8 billion "really outer" beltway is being proposed to handle trains running through, instead of to, the Chicago area. It should reduce the transit time from 30 to 8 hours.
The Chicago Tribune article notes "Great Lakes estimates 15 percent to 25 percent of freight traffic doesn't start or end in Chicago." After watching all of the unit trains run on the BNSF/CB&Q route through Downers Grove, IL, I would have thought the percentage is higher than that. Now that most of the area coal plants have been closed or converted to gas, there are not a lot of facilities in the Chicago area to which these unit trains would be destined. Also, part of the congestion problems are that CSX cannot handle the trains. When I took a trip across Indiana during the Fall of 2015 using US 6, I noticed that there were trains sitting still on the mainline. At least the new bypass would have the waiting trains parked out in the country rather than on urban  roads.

The Tribune article indicates that Union Pacific would be unwilling to use the new bypass. One comment I saw indicates it is because they don't want to short haul their traffic. That is, they don't want to reduce the mileage they get paid for by about 50 miles. I presume another reason is that they don't want to share the revenues with another party. (UP owns part of some of the other belt railways so they would get part of the interchange fees.)

In addition to the CREATE program inprovements, Canadian National continues improving the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern (EJ&E) that it bought from United States Steel to bypass Chicago.

Furthermore, a lot of the congestion is going to fix itself because of reduced rail traffic. Coal cars and fracing sand cars are already setting on storage tracks rather than rolling through Chicago. The bigger Panama Canal should reduce the container trains from the west coast to eastern cities.

So by the time a super bypass processes EPA and regulatory studies and is built, the congestion in the Chicagoland area may already be gone.

Update: people didn't want their rural life disturbed by a railroad, so let's tear up the land with a railroad, tollroad and a South Suburban Airport. A new expressway was proposed, but it was shot down by a governor. Before that, a new airport was proposed down by Peotone, IL. Some government agency had already bought a lot of land for that, but it was shot down. And every time I drive by that I-57 exit, I'm glad I don't have to drive that far just to pick someone up from the airport. Since then they have bought more land at O'Hare and built more east/west runways. But they never did get the planned west entrance built.


  1. Nailed it. Nice job. Why build a bypass when customers will largely not be willing to pay the premium?

    This proposed bypass will require:

    1. Eminent domain of more than 7,000 acres
    2. Federal Guaranteed Loan with the US government cosigning taxpayers should the project fail.
    3. Reinstating regulations to require the big six railroads to use this bypass. It's mandating consumers to pay more for goods and services they are not otherwise willing to buy.
    4. This is still an LLC that is likely being funded by shell companies, holding companies, and other llc's.
    5. It's being purported this "bypass" is to tie into a rail line in Janesville with 15 or 25 mph speedlimit because the track is in poor condition.
    6. We are looking at the highest priced rail at 8 billion dollars for 278 miles. No bank in their right mind would make that loan!

  2. maybe you can help me. does Norfolk Southern interchange with Canadian Pacific in Chicago? Does Canadian Pacific need a bypass to fully appreciate and utilize a merger with Norfolk Southern?

    1. About a month ago I read a statement by the CP CEO arguing why the CP+NS merger would be good. The basic argument was that it would reduce the congestion in Chicago by no longer interchanging traffic to the southwest US in Chicago. If they were merged, then CP traffic to the western railroads would be routed through Buffalo and Detroit for interchange in Kansas City or St. Louis instead of Chicago. This argument struck me as a good reason for nationalizing the track in North America. Basically, CP doesn't want to short haul their trains so they run the southwestern traffic to Chicago. That is, railroads will do stupid routes to keep the cars on their tracks as long as possible. More evidence of that is that CREATE (see CREATE label) had to define some formal traffic thresholds at which the railroads would quit using selfish routes through Chicago and switch to efficient routes through Chicago. They defined these thresholds after the 2014 screw-up when they let congestion get way too bad before they decided to cooperate and use efficient, rather than their standard, routes through (around?) Chicago. I'm still researching how traffic is interchanged in the Chicago area. Railroads don't like sharing info. For example, BNSF not only refused to tell the Tribune how many oil trains they run across Illinois, they would not even share the number with emergency planners. And this is info that you can easily get by setting beside the track in a public parking lot and count.

  3. maybe you can help me. does Norfolk Southern interchange with Canadian Pacific in Chicago? Does Canadian Pacific need a bypass to fully appreciate and utilize a merger with Norfolk Southern?

    1. Yes -- there is no direct connection between CP and NS. This is why they stated that CP was wrong to say there would be 5 interchange trains daily. There would, per NS, not even be one full train.

      It is likely that CP is behind the GLB stunt and either will come forward when it is a done deal or will wait for the line to fall into bankruptcy -- in this case, they will be able to buy at pennies on a dollar.

      No one else really needs a Chicago bipass as railroads that dead end in Chicago (almost all) have no need to get a third carrier involved. Railroads that run through (Canadian National) will keep traffic entirely on their own line.

      Only CP can leverage this into making a deal with CSX or NS happen and this route would like greatly increase oil trains from Bakken region to eastern and southern ports for export.

      As comment above indicates -- it is a circuitous route to the western ports, but if it keeps traffic on CP, they will not care that it is a longer inefficient rout.

      Could the largest transportation holding company in the world, WATCO, owners of Wisconsin Southern be behind this? They are expecting international markets for frack sand that they have exclusive access to now that Scott Walker has underwritten line acquisitions, rail upgrades, and bridge repairs for this traffic.