CHICAGO (AP) — Work started Monday on a long-delayed project to ease train congestion at a vital intersection of tracks in Chicago — a single point that has contributed inordinately to backups in the hub of the nation’s 140,000-mile rail netwo
CHICAGO (AP) — Work started Monday on a long-delayed project to ease train congestion at a vital intersection of tracks in Chicago — a single point that has contributed inordinately to backups in the hub of the nation’s 140,000-mile rail network.
Construction by 2014 of a new bridge lifting north-south tracks over east-west lines is intended to reduce maddening delays for Amtrak- and commuter-train passengers, as well as speed up the flow of tens of thousands of freight trains that run through Chicago each year.
Trains rolled past during a Monday morning groundbreaking ceremony, where Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel alluded to the vast rail network built in the city over more than a century but not always upgraded.
"You cannot have a 21st century economy run on 20th century infrastructure," he said.
More than 500 freight and 700 commuter trains share Chicago-area tracks each day, and freight rail companies have complained for years that it can take a day or more to maneuver trains at a crawl through Chicago.
Reducing train tie-ups at the rail intersection in the South Side Englewood neighborhood, officials say, should also improve the prospects for a planned network of high-speed passenger trains connecting eight states. Chicago would also serve as the hub for that regional system.
As it is now, officials say 14 Amtrak, 46 freight and 78 Metra trains go through the one intersection of the Metra Rock Island District Line and the Norfolk-Southern Railroad line each day. Many are forced to stop and wait while others go through.
The federal government is paying $126 million of the costs for the $133 million project, while Illinois is kicking in $7 million.
Speakers at Monday’s event, including U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, U.S Sen. Dick Durbin and Gov. Pat Quinn heralded the project as a job generator, saying it would create 1,500 jobs.
The transportation secretary, a one-time Illinois congressman, touted that claim to plug President Barack Obama’s nearly $450 billion jobs plan that appears to lack enough legislative support to pass.
"It’s what the American people want," LaHood said, his voice rising. "They are sick and tired of a Congress that’s done absolutely nothing to create jobs."
But some activists in Englewood, a largely African-American community where unemployment has hovered around 20 percent, said they were skeptical.
"I’m tired of these guys coming here and saying jobs will go to the (local) community," said neighborhood activist Bob Israel, who showed up at the groundbreaking. "They never do."
U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, a Democrat who represents the neighborhood, echoed those concerns.
Speaking at the ceremony, he said he would push to ensure that some of the jobs generated by the train bridge, called a flyover, would go to local residents.
"We will not stand by and let the dough fly over Englewood," he said. Jobs going only to workers outside the area, he added, "would be a travesty."
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)