A map released on May 1 shows GLBT’s proposed rail route along with the route for the company’s newly proposed toll road and south suburban airport.
Just in the nick of time, Great Lakes Basin Transportation, Inc. filed its application to construct a new rail line in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. The May 1 application met a deadline set by the Surface Transportation Board in February after Great Lakes Basin was granted an extension for turning in the necessary paperwork.
The proposed 261-mile, privately-funded railroad would be used as a freight carrier from eastern Indiana, through Illinois and then north into Wisconsin. Frank Patton, founder and chairman of GLBT, said the new rail will serve as a bypass to ease train congestion in Chicago. The proposed route goes through six Illinois counties including the northeast corner of LaSalle County, where it would pass within a mile of Earlville.
In the application, if final approval is given by the STB and acquisition of construction financing and right of way are obtained, Patton anticipated the $2.8 billion project to be constructed and portions in service within 24 months. The complete route would take about 36 months. The application also stated that the new rail would “create new capacity for up to 110 trains a day to bypass the existing Chicago terminal, allowing the existing rail infrastructure to move freight and passenger trains originating and terminating in Chicago more efficiently and reliably.”
The application also stated that parts of the rail line could see up to 85 trains a day, traveling at speeds reaching 70 mph. The volume would vary by location with peak volume expected near the Manteno Railport.
While GLBT said their proposed route was chosen to avoid highly developed areas, rural farmers and landowners voiced concern when the project was first announced in 2016. Among their concerns was the question of whether such a bypass was needed or necessary given that another project was already in the works. They also questioned public safety issues that would result from the large number of public and private rail crossings, not to mention the loss of income and property value due to the new rail line.
What happens now?
GLBT’s application will first be reviewed by the STB for completeness. Although there is no deadline for this step, it must be “as soon as possible.” If the application is complete, STB will review the legal merits, examine the overall benefits of the new rail line and various economic and operational factors and consider the environmental impacts of the project.
In their application, GLBT must show that building and operating the proposed rail line is not inconsistent with the public convenience and necessity (PC&N). Based on their findings, STB will determine whether to grant or deny the application.
Public comments may be filed until June 5 and GLBT will have five days to respond. However, the STB could issue a preliminary decision that sets different deadlines for opening and reply comments and other procedures, assuming the application is complete.
Comments may be filed on paper or electronically at http://www.stb.gov. Anyone submitting a comment on paper should send the original and 10 copies to: Surface Transportation Board, Attn: Docket No. FD 35952, 395 E Street, S.W., Washington, DC 20423-001. Comments will be posted to the website.
All filings and decisions on the case are posted on the STB website under Docket No. FD 35952.
For more information, STB’s Rail Customer and Public Assistance office may be reached at (202) 245-0238 or (866) 254-1792. The complete application is available on the “Filings” page at www.stb.gov/filings/all.nsf/WebFilingDate?openforum.
In addition to the rail line, Patton is also proposing a new toll road and airport, which was announced on May 1. The Great Lakes Basin Transportation Build Program would include construction of a new privately funded toll road to connect the Indiana Toll Road with Interstates 80/94, 65, 57, 55 and 80. He said the expressway would be designed to “accommodate the autonomous vehicles of the future.”
The third project announced by Patton is a South Suburban Airport. In a statement, he said the new airport would provide better access to areas south of Chicago and add needed capacity for the future. “Our mission is to advocate a fresh approach to developing the newest airport in the United States,” he added.
However, a Chicago Tribune article reported that the proposed toll road “follows the same path in Lake County and Illinois as the long-stalled Illiana toll road” and “is a smoke screen that could face the same challenges under the new eminent domain law as the rail line.”
More information on the project is available at www.greatlakesbasinraileis.com.