CSXT local train J726 is shown on March 28, 2009 at Lafayette, Indiana enroute to Indianapolis. The track on which it is running was placed into service in 1994. Norfolk Southern placed the other two into service in 2001, completing a 30-year, $182.5 rail relocation project.
Springfield officials are smoking something strange when they look to Lafayette, Indiana as a model for railroad consolidation plans. Lafayette did rail relocation but Springfield wants to do rail consolidation. There is a big difference.
First of all, Lafayette’s project moved CSXT and Norfolk Southern mainlines to a new grade-separated, north-south corridor along the Wabash River downtown. Springfield’s proposed “rail consolidation” will put most rail traffic on a single corridor through the middle of town. Springfield residents will get a rude awakening when they realize what “rail consolidation” means for their city.
Note the cost to the city in grade separation according to a recent State Journal-Register article – nine new underpasses or underpasses, and closure of six rail crossings and eleven streets. And then there is the need to acquire 47 acres of right-of-way for the new track that will parallel the Illinois & Midland RR from Ridgely to Shops and Norfolk Southern from Shops to Iles. This will displace 117 homes and 53 businesses, according to the article.
DAILY TRAIN COUNTS TO DOUBLE BY 2030?
Something that annoys me is the traffic projections rail consolidation proponents use to make their case. Traffic on the 3rd Street (Union Pacific) and 10th Street (Norfolk Southern) is projected to double by 2030.
According to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), train counts on the former is supposed to increase from the current 10 Amtrak passenger trains and five Union Pacific freight trains (actually seven per recent SJ-R article) to 18 Amtrak passenger trains and 27 Union Pacific freight trains.
But the projected number of freight trains is most likely an “upper limit” on existing track capacity, not an actual projection of train counts on the line in 2030. I could be wrong about that, but Union Pacific’s primary Chicago-St. Louis/Texas mainline runs through eastern Illinois via Chicago Heights, Villa Grove and Pana and the recent shift of three or four intermodal trains to the 3rd Street tracks through Springfield frees up capacity for merchandise trains. There’d have to be an awful lot of new intermodal, merchandise, grain and perhaps even North Dakota/Canadian crude oil traffic to add another 20 trains on the 3rd Street line through Springfield.
Likewise with Norfolk Southern’s line through Springfield, or the “10th Street Corridor.” This is Norfolk Southern’s strategic Great Lakes Region- Kansas City link for intermodal, automotive, agricultural and merchandise traffic. Actual train counts have declined thanks to auto industry retrenchment and there seems little reason for these to nearly double from 16 to 27 by 2030. It could happen, sure, but it isn’t likely.
I’m not sure why the SJ-R included Canadian National’s “19th Street” line. Consolidation onto this corridor was considered but in the end did not make the cut. The FRA projects daily train counts will increase from four to nine by 2030. Most trains today are those of the Illinois & Midland RR exercising trackage rights between Avenue and Cimic (south of Springfield) – about two to four per day (a local train runs two or three times a week). An additional five trains might be possible if Canadian National and Kansas City Southern begin some kind of Montreal- or Toronto-Kansas City/St. Louis automotive and intermodal service.
As I and many others have previously noted, status quo is the best and cheapest alternative. But politicians surely will do the opposite.
- David P. Jordan