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CREATE-ing Solutions

Article Commentary - A Step Further...
It’s been gratifying to be involved in Chicago’s CREATE program, and so successfully at that; one of our current engagements in that program, the CREATE P1 – Englewood Flyover project, not only has won the American Council of Engineering Companies’ Eminent Conceptor Award, the highest honor for Illinois chapter, but it moved on to the national stage where it garnered ACEC’s Honor Award, putting it in the top 25 projects in the nation.

There’s a book to be written about the whole range of freight rail, roadway, and passenger rail interactions, but since the Englewood happens to be a flyover, let’s take a run through that intriguing topic.

Flyovers 101
By way of freight rail’s decades-long integration into the transportation network of the nation, and into the national economy itself for that matter, rail lines often existed well before municipal growth took off and cities grew up and grew around the original rail lines.

At the same time, the rail capital investment surge in the early days of urban development was one of the great entrepreneurial leaps in history, with competing rail companies laying track a mile a minute into and out of cities in order to gain market share (not unlike online ventures today, who compete madly in very similar spaces to ‘duke it out’ to see who wins.)

Chicago, a Special Case
Subsequently, in many major cities, and especially in Chicago, the rail line network, freight and passenger both, is not optimized. What we say about the Argentine Flyover here in Kansas City, that crossings (and the bottlenecks that inevitably occur) are at grade, you may take it at face value: these are rail intersections, just as on a highway. Just as on a highway, two trains, freight or passenger, can’t occupy the same length of rail at the same time, or cross an occupied rail when another train is in transit.

At the study phase of these projects there is always an accounting of the cost in time and dollars (and most recently, greenhouse gas emissions) associated with these bottlenecks, and all three can be tremendous. At the same time, there is strong intent on keeping the rail lines from bypassing the city entirely, with the ensuing loss of jobs and economic promise.

The freight rail industry, at a time of static public transportation investment, is going great guns on the private transportation investment side, and gaining efficiencies every day via double tracking, heightened tunnels and overpasses, and intermodal yard improvements along the major freight corridors in order to speed the transit of goods. This has greatly aided freight rail in its enduring competition with trucking, and lengthened by scores of miles the miles that rail can compete on effectively.

It’s especially frustrating then that in Chicago, the major transportation center in the nation, freight coming in from the West Coast ports at times must be unloaded from the inbound train on one side of town, hauled by drayage companies across town, and then reloaded onto another train heading outbound.

The CREATE program in Chicago was designed to address exactly this disconnect. Taking the form of public private partnerships, funded by the freight rail industry, the US DOT, the State of Illinois, and the City of Chicago, the master plan establishes a schedule for solving each of these bottlenecks, six flyovers in total. This Englewood project is the first one awarded of the six, and now the first one completed. As I suggest, they awarded it to the firm most experienced in these projects, and also the one most experienced in working with an array of stakeholders across the modes. That would be us, here at TranSystems.

The project includes construction of the flyover structure and approach bridges, embankment retaining walls, relocated main tracks, temporary running tracks, and associated infrastructure improvements to support three new grade separated tracks to carry Metra’s Rock Island District commuter rail line over the four tracks of the NS (three existing and one proposed) and two future tracks for the Midwest high speed rail initiative.

Once concluded, the throughput of both the freight rail and passenger rail lines will be improved considerably, with enhanced reliability and thus the ability to better plan throughout the supply chain.

If you have an interest in flyovers, or a need, one of our subject matter experts is Chuck Stenzel in our Chicago office, client manager for this project,, at 847-774-9937. -- lsm
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