- Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific have sent letters to the Surface Transportation Board saying they were "disinclined" to use a 261-mile freight train line that would bypass Chicago's congestion, for a price, the Chicago Post-Tribune reported Tuesday.
- However, UPS has indicated strong interest in the proposal, noting that any bypass of the problematic Chicago bottleneck would improve the flow of freight rail, benefiting customers.
- The new line was officially proposed by Great Lakes Basin Transportation in May and must be approved by the STB before construction. The Board is receiving public comments through June 5.
The Great Lakes Basin Transportation plan relies partially on other rail operators' willingness to pay for access to a supposed more efficient route, in terms of time, so other railways' disinterest could deal a blow to the approval process.
But it's hardly a surprise: A new line claiming to be more efficient would threaten other operators' Chicago market share, particularly as the others invest in their own tracks. Norfolk Southern, for example, has been buying out homes in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood in the hopes of expanding its own intermodal rail yard. Roughly 550 lots have been purchased, with just five holdouts as of late April.
Could it be that Norfolk Southern seeks to limit competition with its own proposed new line? Further, unnamed opponents of the Great Lakes Basin line claim to be concerned about safety, drainage woes, the loss of farmland and other worries along the route, according to the Post-Tribune.
Similarly, UPS' support for the plan is likely due to the logistics company's dependence on both Union Pacific and Norfolk Southern to move products out of the region. More competition typically benefits the clients, including UPS. However, it should be noted rail freight transport is among the slowest modes of transportation, so doubts remain as to the fiscal benefits faster shipping could bring to rail clients.
It's really up to the Surface Transportation Board to decide the plan's merits. If it does approve the plan, a few years will determine whether Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific were bluffing in their disregard for an expedited freight path.