Great Lakes rail promoters ask for application extension

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Great Lakes Basin Transportation (GLBT) officials have asked the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to halt its environmental review for its planned railroad line, giving another extension to the company as it works on its application.

GLBT officials asked the board to push back the environmental review deadline to April 30 in a letter submitted Wednesday. Company officials said they are continuing to prepare an application for the rail line which will run from La Porte, Indiana to Milton, Wisconsin. Locally, the rail line would go through Winnebago County in Illinois and Rock County in Wisconsin.

“We are preparing the required application content for project overview, information on the proposal, operational data and financial data,” said GLBT CEO Frank Patton in the letter.

The company has started holding meetings with potential customers, shippers and others to prepare the application. All would be required to submit support of the application to build the multistate rail line.

“These discussions are ongoing and are expected to continue for several more weeks,” Patton said. “Accordingly, we are not in a position to file the application at this time.”

Wisconsin Rep. Amy Loudenbeck (R-Clinton) sent a letter Wednesday to the STB over her “disappointment with the lack of information and progress” on the project, according to an issued statement.

“While I understand that granting GLBT’s requested extension may be a formality at this point in the process, I am disappointed in the applicant’s apparent lack of progress on a formal submission to the STB more than a year after filing their Notice of Intent,” Rep. Loudenbeck said. “As the GLBT further drags out the environmental review process, homeowners, farmers, and communities within the right-of-way along the 278-mile route remain in a constant state of disruption due to the potential impacts on their property and lives.”

The letter comes as grassroots community groups continue to monitor the plan’s progress, and the Rock Against the Rail group has filed additional information last month to the plan’s record in rebuttal to GLBT’s responses to STB questions answered in December over the plan.

Developers say the privately-funded $8 billion rail line would ease freight train congestion and better manage traffic from Chicago.

The latest plan has the GLBT rail line running west of Beloit and not going through Boone County in Illinois as was originally planned. Instead it is planned to run west of Rockford in Winnebago County.

The company could submit its application as soon as April 30, but the process, along with the environmental impact statement, would take years to be settled before a final STB ruling is made.

Since the plan was announced in March of last year, there has been considerable pushback throughout the affected counties in the three states listed in the plan. Landowners and farmers across the proposed 270-mile route said at multiple hearings held in Rock and Winnebago counties that the plan would decrease property values, impact farmland production and disrupt rural life.

The recent court filing claims the company’s responses are “unsupported” and that comments need to be accepted as part of the official record to clarify the situation.

The proposed plan would add 184 miles of two-track rails, nearly 73.5 miles of single-track rails and 13 miles of three-track rails. There are a total of 1,718 homes within the proposed rail route and 449 properties are within one mile of the proposed route.

The current plan would bring the rail line through the Riverside Energy Center developed by Alliant Energy, set for construction in March. The site is being developed as a natural gas and solar energy generating station through a $700 million investment. It is estimated the power station could have a $250 million annual economic impact, according to Alliant.

Opponents claim the detailed list of right-of-way uses was only added to the plan since the STB does not have jurisdiction to authorize acquisition of property for non-rail use. The opposition also took issue with the company’s previous statement saying rail congestion in Chicago had prompted the plan, while stating the average time to send a freight train through the city sat at over 30 hours.

The claim has been disputed, and community groups pointed to the implementation of the Chicago Integrated Rail Operations Center (CIROC) in 2015. The plan includes direct connections to each carrier and track to assist rail employees in resolving operational issues and identifying congestion points. Recent data showed the time required for a unit train to pass through the Chicago Rail Terminal has declined from 20 hours to less than 15 hours.

For updates on the plan, go online and see greatlakesbasin.net.

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