Panel releases findings about Chicago's railway issues

A blue ribbon panel assembled by Amtrak to address delays in passenger and freight traffic along the Chicago Gateway has brought several new ideas to the fore.

The panel suggested a number of things, including bringing together rail traffic control dispatchers who are currently separated by thousands of miles, improving operating practices of railroads, and securing funding for priority projects that have already been identified in northern Illinois and Indiana.

Panel members were chosen last year by Amtrak President and Chief Executive Officer Joe Boardman. The panel's findings were unveiled this week in Chicago for two university and policy groups, and revealed that railway congestion in Chicago could be costing its citizens as much as $799 billion annually.

"The panel interviewed experts with the freight rail industry; Metra commuter rail; the states of Illinois, Indiana and Michigan; and others and the verdict was unanimous: the implications of failing to act are dire for the economy of the nation in general and the Chicago area in particular,” Boardman said.

Chicago has historically been one of the nation's most active rail locations.

“It’s the busiest rail hub because all the major railroads run through that hub and all the commodities that we think of: grain, crude oil, coal, manufacturing goods, intermodal (that’s product that’s on rail and at some point on truck for a period of time), all of that’s moving through Chicago,” Linda Morgan, a panelist who was the first chair of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, the railroad financial regulatory agency, said.

The panel maintained -- and Boardman agreed -- that railway issues need to be taken to Congress and state legislatures.

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