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City Council OKs expansion of Englewood rail yard

A Norfolk-Southern tracrosses MetrRock IslLine line 63rd State.  I  Sun-Times files

A Norfolk-Southern train crosses the Metra Rock Island Line line at 63rd and State. I Sun-Times files

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Updated: December 15, 2013 11:44AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to strengthen Chicago as a rail and freight hub got back on track Wednesday after a political derailment.

The City Council agreed to expand a pair of tax-increment-financing districts needed to allow Norfolk Southern railroad to proceed with a $285 million expansion of the railroad’s intermodal yard in Englewood.

The massive project would enlarge by 57 percent and 84 acres an existing rail yard bounded by 47th, Wallace, Garfield and Stewart where rail containers are transferred to and from trucks.

Englewood residents and their environmental champions have extracted a string of concessions from Norfolk Southern, armed with a new study that concludes the project would make the pollution problem worse in a neighborhood that has long suffered from high rates of asthma.

Norfolk Southern has promised to retrofit trucks and construction equipment. The railroad has also promised to contribute $3 million toward transportation improvements, thousands more to area schools and donate unused rail spurs that the city hopes to convert into an elevated bike trail akin to the Bloomingdale Trail.

It also has argued that traffic signalization improvements have already alleviated truck congestion.

On Wednesday, those sometimes heated negotiations paid off.

Local Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) said it wasn’t easy getting to this point, but the final agreement strikes the appropriate balance.

“I had to look out for economic development in this city and this country as well as the community itself. It has been quite a negotiation. We’ve learned some things. We brought some new leadership to the table and worked with environmental advocacy groups. Environmental advocacy groups have been a great adviser to me,” Cochran said.

“I believe that we have forged a great alliance, the centerpiece of which has been improving the environment and personal health in the Englewood community. I have been an advocate for economic development and human rights before this matter came before me. I will continue to do so.”

Cochran noted that Norfolk Southern has provided over $3 million to address resident concerns and expand resources to area elementary schools.

And he noted that the acquisition of homes needed for the massive project went off “without a hitch. ... I had no complaints — not one — about the compensation that homeowners receive.”

He added, “We leave this with our heads up with the respect we need as a city for that community.”

At Emanuel’s behest, the City Council has already given Norfolk Southern the go-ahead to purchase 105 city-owned lots for $1.1 million to pave the way for the massive expansion of the railroad’s intermodal yard.

The project will be completed in phases. It will begin with making the yard more efficient by closing off 58th Street and putting in a Y-connection that would allow the railroad to access the western portion of the intermodal facility that now functions as two separate yards.

Also on Wednesday, the City Council signed off on an $8.5 million Class L property tax break for the renovation of 99-year-old Wrigley Field.


Twitter: @fspielman

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