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More money needed to speed freight trains, panel says

Updated: June 11, 2013 9:25AM

Members of a public-private group working to speed up freight-train traffic through Chicago say they’re making progress — and will continue down that road with more money.

Politicians, transit officials and business leaders met at a roundtable Monday to discuss the progress of the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency plan to improve the flow of rail transport in the Chicago area.

According to the CREATE program’s project manager, Bill Thompson, there are currently enough funds to continue work for three more years.

The CREATE program originally came with a price tag of $1.5 billion, $1.2 billion of which has been spent. The cost, now roughly double, is $3.2 billion.

Under the initial budget, 17 projects are complete and another 12 are under construction, including the Englewood Flyover, a bridge being constructed near 63rd and State to eliminate the conflict between freight and passenger trains.

U.S. Rep Dan Lipinski, (D-Ill.), who sits on the U.S. House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, asked the panelists about potential sources for the additional $1.7 billion in funding.

“The city of Chicago and the county need to step up and pay more,” said Doug Whitley, CEO of the Chicago Chamber of Commerce, pointing out that the funding was supposed to be a shared cost between the railroads, the federal government and the state. Chicago has contributed $15 million to the program.

“We’ll get through it. We have to, but how do we get the funding?” said Brad O’Halloran, chairman of the Metra board of directors. “We’re professionally begging today.”

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