December 1, 2014 Amtrak Adds Chicagoan to Blue Ribbon Panel to Address Rail Gridlock

Christina Leeds

Media Contact

202 906.3860

Congestion causing major delays for passengers and freight shipments

WASHINGTON – Amtrak has added a member with deep local expertise in regional issues to the blue ribbon panel of rail and transportation leaders to identify infrastructure and operational improvements to address the rail traffic gridlock in Chicago. The unprecedented level of rail congestion is causing major delays for Amtrak passengers and freight shipments which are damaging to the U.S. economy.

Howard Learner, an attorney who serves as President of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, has joined Chicago Gateway Initiative panel members Jack Quinn, former U.S. Congressman and past chairman of the U.S. House Railroads Subcommittee, Linda Morgan, former chair of the Surface Transportation Board and Tom Carper, Amtrak board member and past chairman.

“The rail gridlock in Chicago is causing unacceptable delays for Amtrak passengers while reducing revenues and driving up operating costs for Amtrak,” said Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman. “Howard Learner will bring an important perspective to our work and he will be a collaborative partner in this effort.”

The freight railroads which operate in Chicago and other stakeholders will be invited to participate in panel activities and are key to implementing recommended solutions. Because Chicago is the hub of the U.S. rail network, and the key gateway between East and West rail traffic, gridlock in the Chicago area is causing major delays throughout the United States. The congestion problem is caused by a combination of rising demand on the East Coast for more intermodal freight and crude oil shipments which originate west of Chicago, underinvestment in critical rail infrastructure that produces public benefits and short term capital projects that create additional temporary bottlenecks.

The panel is charged with identifying and evaluating infrastructure investments and operational actions that will optimize Amtrak on-time performance and improve freight rail service. Its objectives are to minimize disruptions and delays, and accelerate the construction of infrastructure projects. A final report on recommendations is expected by the end of May 2015.

Chicago is Amtrak’s most important hub and many of its trains that operate to and from the city are suffering from poor on-time performance, dispatching issues and high levels of freight train interference. For example, delays of four hours or more for Amtrak trains operating between Chicago and Cleveland have become a near daily occurrence. These and other major delays have ripple effects across the Amtrak national system. If Amtrak trains, which have statutory dispatching priority over freight trains, cannot be moved efficiently through the nation’s principal rail hub, then freight shipments will continue to be slowed by gridlock as well.

The CREATE program has been a concerted effort by freight railroads, Amtrak and other stakeholders to address rail congestion issues in Chicago and it has achieved several successes. The Chicago Gateway Initiative will build on the CREATE program by re-energizing the conversation, stimulating new discussion about next steps for securing funding to implement CREATE projects, and seeking to improve cooperative efforts among the railroads.

“Alleviating Chicago rail congestion will be of great benefit to Amtrak passengers and the fluidity of the national freight transportation network,” said Boardman. “We need solutions and predictable dedicated funding to make the needed infrastructure investments. Let’s get started.”

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