Sunday, December 4, 2016

Proposed Great Lakes rail line details train times, connections in filing



Amy LavalleyPost-Tribune


Great Lakes Basin Transportation details train times, the importance of a connection from Kingsbury to South Shore Freight, and other matters in its most recent filing with the Surface Transportation Board.

The filing, made Wednesday, was in response to a request by the federal agency for additional information on GLBT's plans for a privately funded rail line from southern Wisconsin into LaPorte County.

The filing, written by Jim Wilson, GLBT's president and chief executive officer, notes that the estimated end-to-end time between Pinola in LaPorte County and Milton, Wisconsin, would vary depending on traffic and train type, among other factors, but would range from about 5 1/2 hours to just under 8 hours.

"The key is that the travel times should be reliable. That's the most important part," said Frank Patton, GLBT's founder and managing partner.

GLBT proposes an $8 billion freight train line to provide a bypass for Class 1 railroads going through Chicago's congested rail yard and take trucks off the road.

"Given the current average time to traverse the Chicago rail network of 33 hours, the anticipated GLBT average transit time of 8 hours is one of the critical value elements justifying the investment in this project," Wilson wrote. "The proposed investment still makes sense if the end-to-end time is up to 12 hours."

The filing was in response to one of three requests for information made by the STB, which will make the final determination on whether the freight line will proceed on GLBT's preferred route, an alternate route or not at all. GLBT officials submitted an alternate route, also at the behest of the STB, in late September, which they prefer over their original proposal.

INDOT rail session leaves unanswered questions

INDOT rail session leaves unanswered questions

Either of the proposed routes would cut through southern Lake and Porter counties, raising concerns by residents there and elsewhere about loss of farmland, drainage issues and delayed response times by first responders stopped at rail crossings.

The preferred route offers some changes in LaPorte County and three options for going around Lowell, though it is virtually unchanged in Porter County. It also offers significant changes through Wisconsin and Illinois.

The most recent filing includes information on what's called the "Kingsbury Branch connection" to South Shore Freight, which Wilson said would give South Shore customers access to the improved service offered by GLBT and provide GLBT with a connection to CSX's subdivision in Michigan City.

"A connection with South Shore Freight was in our initial plans to give its customers neutral market access to all the Class 1 carriers connecting with GLBT," Wilson wrote. "South Shore Freight shippers will benefit from the improved velocity, reliability, capacity, and new revenue opportunities that our project would provide."

Freight line plan predicts up to 85 daily trains

Freight line plan predicts up to 85 daily trains

The Post-Tribune has reported that two of the six Class I railroads expected to be served by the freight line have publicly stated they will not participate, and the remaining four appear uncommitted to the project.

"I remain completely opposed to this project," said Porter County Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-South, whose Porter Township property would be bisected by the rail line. "There is no benefit to Porter County and I think if the potential customers, Class I railroads, needed it, they would be clamoring to help put this through."

The filing also details a series of "anchor points" along the route, including two in LaPorte County, in Pinola and Alida.

"There's huge economic development opportunities at these intersections with current or future rail operations, intermodal, whatever," Patton said, adding that with development at Kingsbury, "we could have a huge economic impact."

The newest route is again generating comments on the STB's website for the proposal. A growing number of people and organizations, including an attorney representing several groups opposed to GLBT's plans that includes groups in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties, are calling for the STB to hold public meetings on the most recent route, as the federal agency did in the spring, since new areas would be impacted.

"That is entirely within the STB's discretion and it's up to them," said Mike Blaszak, one of the attorneys for GLBT.

Officials with the STB have not yet said whether they will hold additional scoping meetings, part of the process in putting together an environmental impact statement.

In the meantime, GLBT officials are moving forward with their plans.

"We need to prepare our application for construction of the railroad. It's a separate procedure from the environmental impact statement and we're working on that," Blaszak said, adding there's no timeline for the application but it will be filed sometime next year, "sooner than later."

Amy Lavalley is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.

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