While two of the railroads that were supposed to be served by Great Lakes Basin's proposed freight line have publicly stated they will not participate, the remaining four appear uncommitted to the project.
Officials with the railroads have either said they were not involved in GLBT's proposal for an $8 billion, privately funded freight train line that runs 278 miles from Milton, Wis., to LaPorte County, or had no comment. One of those railroads acquired a rail line that already provides a bypass around Chicago and the other furloughed 4,600 employees earlier this spring because of a drop in cargo traffic.
Officials also noted their railroads support the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency Program (CREATE), an ongoing project to alleviate rail congestion in Chicago that's already in place. Frank Patton, GLBT's founder and managing partner, has said his freight line would alleviate rail congestion and take trucks off the roads.
"We have supported CREATE since 2013," Patton said in an email. "We believe, along with many others, that CREATE is not the single solution to the projected 60 percent growth in traffic in the next 25 years."
He said the description of a second phase of CREATE in a Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning document that notes developing a program "so that the regional rail system has the capacity to efficiently handle potential future traffic loads and meshes with an efficient system for local pick-up and delivery" describes GLBT's proposal "perfectly."
Patrick Waldron, a spokesman for Canadian National, had no comment on the proposal but in 2009, the railroad purchased the former Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway, which, according to CN's website, "allows us to seamlessly connect our five rail lines entering the city, avoiding those crowded inner city rail corridors."
According to a company news release from January 2015, CN has invested more than $1 billion in its Midwest operations in the past several years.
The purchase of EJ&E, company president and chief executive officer Claude Mongeau said in the release, "frees up capacity for other carriers on the Belt Railway of Chicago and Indiana Harbor Belt – a benefit for the entire greater Chicago rail network."
A spokesman for BNSF, Andy Williams, also had no comment, though an April 1 article on Bloomberg's website notes the railway put 4,600 workers on furlough because of declining cargo traffic.
The article notes that traffic for large U.S. railroads dropped 6.2 percent in the first quarter of this year, rail cargo fell 2.5 percent in 2015, and that most railroads responded by reducing workforces.
Canadian Pacific "is not affiliated with the Great Lakes Basin proposal," Andy Cummings, a spokesman there said.
CSX has not made a formal decision, said Gail Lobin, spokeswoman for that railroad, though the railroad supports CREATE and its efforts.
"CSX is always looking at opportunities to increase efficiency and capacity in and around Chicago, and across our entire network. Our efforts include working with other railroads to capture those efficiencies, including through support of the CREATE initiative, which has had a positive impact in efficiently moving freight not only in Chicago but throughout North America," she said in an email.
Patton has said that property owners whose land is impacted by the freight line could pay for rail spurs and switches and provide boxcars for pick-up and delivery of goods.
Union Pacific representatives said in March that they would not take part in the proposal. Norfolk Southern submitted a letter late last month to the federal Surface Transportation Board stating it already has bypasses around Chicago and is not inclined to use the proposed route.
Opposition to GLBT has been fierce across three states and opponents have flooded the STB with letters against the project in what a representative there has called an unprecedented response to the project.
They have repeatedly questioned the needed for the rail line, particularly in light of the news that neither Union Pacific nor Norfolk Southern would take part in the proposal.
"(GLBT's proposal) seems unnecessary and it just backs up what our group says," Kathleen Honl, one of the organizers of the Porter County opposition group Residents Against the Invasion of Land by Eminent Domain (RAILED), said last week.
Amy Lavalley is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.