FOUR YEARS of negotiations have culminated in an agreement to proceed with a $1·5bn programme to upgrade rail freight corridors across Chicago over the next 12 years. The city is the only place where all six US Class I railroads meet, with 1200 freight trains and 37500 wagons a day moving 75% of all US rail freight. Level crossings and flat junctions between the many different lines which thread through the area have made it a huge bottleneck, with freight trains averaging less than 20 km/h to cross the city.

Under the proposals announced on June 16, key sections of railway will be grade-separated at six locations, and 19 bridges will help to segregate road traffic. Long-neglected viaducts dating from the 19th century will be modernised. Upgrading of routes outside the city centre would enable the demolition of the former Illinois Central St Charles Air Line as part of an urban redevelopment programme.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley said the city would provide $200m towards the public-private partnership. Other public-sector partners include the State of Illinois and various federal agencies. Six freight railways will contribute a total of $212m and regional commuter operator Metra a further $20m.