Freight Train Late? Blame Chicago
Shippers complain that a load of freight can make its way from Los Angeles to Chicago in 48 hours, then take 30 hours to travel across the city. A recent trainload of sulfur took some 27 hours to pass through Chicago — an average speed of 1.13 miles per hour, or about a quarter the pace of many electric wheelchairs. With freight volume in the United States expected to grow by more than 80 percent in the next 20 years, delays are projected to only get worse. The underlying reasons for this sprawling traffic jam are complex, involving history, economics and a nation’s disinclination to improve its roads, bridges and rails. Six of the nation’s seven biggest railroads pass through the city, a testament to Chicago’s economic might when the rail lines were laid from the 1800s on. Today, a quarter of all rail traffic in the nation touches Chicago. Nearly half of what is known as intermodal rail traffic, the big steel boxes that can be carried aboard ships, trains or trucks, roll by or through this city.Winter Took its Toll on the Achilles’ Heel of American Railroads
CSX Corp.chief executive Michael Ward insisted today that the railroad operator is not running out of capacity, even as analysts questioned the continuing costs, delays and fallout from the great rail tie-ups and tangles of the first quarter. “You don’t build the church for Easter Sunday,” Mr. Ward said in an interview after his first quarter earnings call. “We have plenty of capacity for all the growth you can foresee — but not for one of the coldest and snowiest winters in history.” Normally in Chicago, you have either cold winters or snowy winters, he told the analysts. “It’s highly unusual the winter is both,” he said. But in what has become a railroad mantra lately, he said there had been twenty-five significant snowfalls during the third coldest winter ever in Chicago this year. And Chicago happens to be the Achilles’ Heel of the rail system — a major bottleneck where all the major railroads converge. Problems there have a “cascading impact” on the rest of the network, Mr. Ward said.
Here's the long-term solution:
Plan floated for $3 billion Chicago rail bypass
Under the plan, a six-track, freight-only rail line would be built between Coal City, Ill., and Wellsboro, Ind., in a portion of the right-of-way that transit officials hope to acquire for the proposed Illiana Expressway. The line could be extended farther west later. The $3 billion structure faces all kinds of obstacles, not least among them the fact that the Illiana Expressway still is just a dream. But the idea of getting private investors to put up money that would be repaid by railroads paying charges to use the tracks does have a certain big-picture beauty to it. That would make the line something like a public utility.