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CREATE: A Project of National and Regional Significance

CREATE Overview

A project of national and regional significance, CREATE will invest billions in critically needed capital improvements to increase the efficiency of the region's rail infrastructure. CREATE will reduce train and auto delays throughout the Chicago area by focusing rail traffic on four rail corridors that will be improved to handle passenger and freight traffic more efficiently. The work includes 70 projects:

For area residents, CREATE means reduced traffic delays, shorter commute times, better air quality and increased public safety. For workers and businesses, it means more jobs and economic opportunity.

CREATE will keep the GO in Chicago – now and for years to come.

Need for CREATE

Chicago: America’s Rail Hub

Chicago today remains the busiest rail hub in the United States.  Each day, nearly 1,300 trains pass through the region (500 freight and 760 passenger). Chicago handles one-fourth of the nation's freight rail traffic, each day handling 37,500 railcars.

Freight Rail

For almost 150 years, Chicago has been the nation's rail hub due to its critical location at the nexus of the North American railroad network.  Six of the seven largest rail carriers access the region:  the eastern railroads, Norfolk Southern (NS) and CSX; the western railroads, BNSF Railway (BNSF) and Union Pacific (UP); and the two Canadian railroads, Canadian Pacific (CPR) and Canadian National (CN).

The rail lines built more than a century ago were not configured for the volumes and types of freight being carried currently, and Chicago has become the largest U.S. rail freight chokepoint.  An average rail car that may take as little as 48 hours to travel the 2,200 miles from Los Angeles to Chicago spends an average of 30 hours traversing the Chicago region.  Average speeds of freight trains operating in the region typically range from 5 to 12 miles per hour, depending on the route. Over the next 30 years, demand for freight rail service in Chicago is expected to nearly double. That means more jobs for Illinois workers and increased economic opportunity for Illinois businesses but only if we can meet the growing need for rail service.

Intercity Passenger Rail

Chicago is the National Railroad Passenger Corporation’s (Amtrak) primary intercity rail hub outside the Northeast Corridor.  Nearly all of Amtrak’s long-distance and intercity passenger rail services in the Midwest terminate at downtown Chicago’s Union Station.  In Illinois, Amtrak service operates almost entirely on freight-owned track and has been increasingly affected by conflict with freight operations resulting from growing rail traffic.  Expanding demand for passenger service places additional burdens on Chicago’s rail network, particularly as a vastly improved Midwest rail regional network focusing around a Chicago-based hub moves towards reality. 

Commuter Rail

Regional passenger rail services, operated by Metra and the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD), are exceeded in ridership only by the Long Island Railroad in North America.  In 2009, Metra operated more than 700 weekday trains on a network of 488 route miles with 240 stations and a daily volume of 312,700 unlinked passenger trips throughout the Chicago metropolitan region.   Since 1983, Metra’s first year of operation, ridership has increased 46 percent, averaging 1.7 percent growth annually.

Metra’s radial lines cross freight rail lines at grade in several locations, including the heavily traveled Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad (IHB) and the Belt Railway of Chicago (BRC), which is a frequent cause for delays to both passenger and freight trains.  The demand for commuter rail service combined with increasing freight volumes and congestion make operating timely and reliable commuter and freight rail service over a shared rail network increasingly challenging.

History of CREATE

Recognizing the growing urgency of the region's rail capacity needs, Mayor Richard M. Daley called on the federal Surface Transportation Board to convene a task force to tackle the problem. The resulting task force – made up of representatives from the railroad industry, State of Illinois and City of Chicago – announced the CREATE Program on June 16, 2003.

CREATE is the first program on which so many competing railroads have come together as partners to increase the efficiency of an urban rail network. Six of the seven major railroads operating in North America pass through Chicago. All six of those railroads are partners in the CREATE Program.