Saturday, September 24, 2016

Chuck Sweeny: We can benefit from Great Lakes Basin railroad route


  • Boone County didn't want windmills. It didn't want the Great Lakes Basin railroad. The railroad's new route is through Winnebago County. We can take advantage of it. In a nation of 320 million people, are Hillary and Donald the best we can do for presidential candidates?


  • By Chuck Sweeny
    Staff writer

    Rockford Register Star

  • Chuck Sweeny is senior editor for the Rockford Register Star and |


  • Residents of Boone County have made it clear that they don't want windmills that generate electricity, and they don't want a railroad rollin' past their houses, farms and fields. They have been successful in halting both projects, a dubious distinction in my opinion.
    However, that's what the Boonian people don't want, and that's what they're not going to get. "Welcome to Boone County. Get off my lawn!"
    The Great Lakes Basin Transportation Co. project has been rerouted once again, away from Boone County to an alignment that takes it through Winnebago County west of Rockford, around Chicago Rockford International Airport, down to Rochelle and through Lee County.
    The private venture is an $8 billion project that seeks to make money by routing freight trains more than 200 miles from southern Wisconsin, around Chicagoland and into northwest Indiana to avoid the bottleneck caused by 1,200 trains a day snaking through a city where the tracks were built in the 19th century and are inadequate to handle the number and length of trains today.
    This includes 500 freight trains a day on six major railroads, all of which converge in Chicago, as well as more than 700 Metra, South Shore Line and Amtrak passenger trains. Great Lakes Transportation estimates that up to 25 percent of the freight isn't bound for Chicago, just passing through.
    Transcontinental container freight takes two days to get from the port of Los Angeles-Long Beach to Chicago, and up to two more days to get through that city's jumble of trackage before heading to its ultimate destination. This is not competitive with the newly widened Panama Canal, which can now handle bigger container ships.
    This project is not a done deal, of course. There are millions of Citizens Against Virtually Everything today, and progress is not CAVE's top priority.
    We in Winnebago County should welcome such a venture and take advantage of it. There are many opportunities for rail-oriented economic development — if we do it right.
    The new route takes the railroad close to Chicago Rockford International Airport and south to Rochelle. This is a growth corridor. The airport is the nation's 25th-busiest airfreight hub, and it is getting busier. If there were modern rail access, we'd be able to sell that as another piece in our transportation infrastructure, as Rochelle has done so spectacularly over the past 30 years with its city-built, city-owned, privately operated railroad on which Fortune 500 companies and other firms have built distribution centers.
    Rochelle has taken full advantage of the fact that both the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroads have main lines going through the city; the city-owned railroad links them both; switching freight cars earns Rochelle as much as $1 million a year, and all the city has to do is collect the money.

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