Freight Intro


As the nation's freight hub, metropolitan Chicago has significant economic opportunities and responsibilities. Simply put, our region is the preeminent freight hub in North America. A quarter of all freight in the nation originates, terminates, or passes through metropolitan Chicago, which is home to six of the seven Class I railroads, seven interstate highways, one of the world's busiest airports, and the only connection between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River systems.

Regional Strategic Freight Direction. This report provides near term direction for CMAP and key partners in its freight planning, policy, and programming work. The CMAP Freight Committee and other working committees helped develop the Regional Strategic Freight Direction, which was presented to the CMAP Board and MPO Policy Committee in January 2018. The document is supported by the ON TO 2050 Freight Snapshot, which reviews data and trends in the region’s goods movement system.

Regional Freight Leadership Task Force. CMAP convened a regional task force to explore institutional and funding barriers affecting the freight system in northeastern Illinois. The Regional Freight Leadership Task Force met from October 2013 through May 2014 before presenting a final report to the CMAP Board in June 2014. 

Freight Cluster Reports.  This infrastructure and volume of goods movement supports many jobs in the region, not only in transportation-related industries, but also in other industries such as manufacturing that directly rely on goods movement. Together, the larger freight cluster accounts for one in four jobs in the region.  Released in July 2012, CMAP's Freight Cluster Drill-Down report identifies key infrastructure, workforce, and innovation challenges and opportunities influencing future cluster growth and concludes with a set of regional strategies to better align resources and investments with the needs of the freight cluster.  In August 2013, CMAP published a follow-up report on the Freight-Manufacturing Nexus that examines how, due to the size and strength of metropolitan Chicago's freight cluster, the region is uniquely positioned to capitalize on the recent resurgence in U.S. manufacturing.

Freight Data and Resources.   CMAP maintains a collection of multimodal freight data and analysis for northeastern Illinois, including metrics of performance, volume, facility inventory, and more.

Freight Resources

GO TO 2040. The comprehensive plan's Regional Mobility chapter recommends that the region should create a more efficient freight system.  

Community Railroad Resources. CMAP has collected useful information about the rail system in our communities, including issues of local safety and maintenance.

Visualizations Explore the Metropolitan Chicago Transportation Network. Interactive mobility visualizations allow users to explore data on metropolitan Chicago's transportation system, including road, transit, and freight networks, which drive our regional economy. 

More about Freight

Freight has long been central to the development of metropolitan Chicago. Businesses have long utilized the region's transportation infrastructure as an economic advantage, first capitalizing on the region's geographic position at the nexus of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River systems, then its unmatched connections between eastern and western railroads, and more recently its extensive highway network and global air connections.

Today the region is the preeminent transportation and logistics hub in North America. A quarter of all freight in the nation originates, terminates, or passes through metropolitan Chicago. The region's concentration in intermodal moves—i.e., freight shipped in a standardized container easily transferred between modes—is even more striking. About half of all intermodal movements in the country touch the Chicago metropolitan area. Indeed, metropolitan Chicago's intermodal facilities vie with Los Angeles as the largest container handler in the entire Western Hemisphere.

Metropolitan Chicago's impressive transportation performance helps to drive the regional economy. The freight industry directly employs truckers, rail workers, terminal workers, logistics providers, and others. Together, these interrelated industries account for 200,000 jobs and provide over $13 billion in personal income for the residents of northeastern Illinois. A greater proportion of metropolitan Chicago's employment falls in these freight industries compared to the national rate, and this specialization has grown over the past decade.

Freight supports jobs not only in transportation and logistics but also in freight-dependent industries such as manufacturing and wholesale trade. Indeed, one-quarter of all jobs in the regional economy are in industries directly tied to freight. These freight-dependent industries add over $115 billion to the regional economy each year.

The region must address serious funding and governance issues if it is to maintain the vitality of its freight system. The Chicago area is routinely listed as having some of the worst highway congestion in the nation, costing billions of dollars annually in terms of wasted time and fuel. Furthermore, the region's rail system is beset by congestion, with numerous heavily-used freight lines crossing each other at grade and being used for commuter and intercity passenger services. Significant investments will be needed to bring the freight system to a state of good repair, as well as expand capacity to meet current and future demand. However, traditional revenue sources to support public investments in transportation have failed to keep pace with needs.

Northeastern Illinois contains seven counties, 284 municipalities, and 123 townships. Those general purpose units of government, along with the state, have jurisdiction over the highway network. Through that authority, they regulate truck routes, parking, and delivery restrictions, determine size and weight restrictions, and impose fees. Further, they zone to control and regulate land uses. While these decisions may reflect local preferences, they do not always aggregate to a coherent whole, and the multiplicity of local regulations imposes a burden on the freight system.

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Freight Updates

March 31, 2016

Rail safety proposed rule on minimum staffing announced

On March 15, 2016, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on train crew staffing in the Federal Register, proposing a minimum of two crewmembers for all railroad operations except those that do not pose a significant safety risk.  The NPRM also defines the roles and responsibilities of the second crewmember.  Finally, the notice provides two options to accommodate railroads that prefer to operate with a single crewmember.  Comments are due to the FRA by May 16, 2016. Instructions of how to file comments are in NPRM.

While most train operations today involve at least two crewmembers, the FRA is concerned that anticipated technological advancements in the near future -- including positive train control -- may encourage railroads to reduce crew levels without full consideration of the potential safety risk.  Research suggests that multiple crewmembers may also improve safety by reducing the task overload experienced by a sole crewmember, thereby improving the crew's situational awareness.  Further, two-person crews may help provide timely response to incidents and ensure the necessary personnel to split up a disabled train to minimize grade crossing blockages.  Because metropolitan Chicago is a crossroads for the nation's rail system, rail safety is an important consideration for the many of the region's municipalities with rail lines within their boundaries. 

The NPRM illustrates the potential safety impacts with two recent incidents.  The fatal July 2013 derailment and explosion in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada, resulted from a one-person crew failing to properly secure an unattended train.  In contrast, the presence of multiple crewmembers during a December 2013 derailment and explosion in Casselton, North Dakota, substantially reduced the risk of damage because the crew was able to move dozens of loaded crude oil cars away from a fire.

Summary of proposed rule

The NPRM contains two main provisions.  The first provision establishes a general rule that each train operation in the country shall be assigned at least a two-person crew.  The rule goes on to identify exceptions to this rule in various existing low-risk situations, including for trains that are not hauling large quantities of hazardous materials or traveling at high speeds, for tourist or other excursion trains, or for trains assisting in railroad operations (e.g., track maintenance, train assistance, or moving locomotives).  The NPRM defines the roles and responsibilities for the second crewmember; one key responsibility is the ability to communicate with the first crewmember (i.e., the locomotive engineer), even if located outside the operating cab.

The second provision provides two avenues (Option 1 and Option 2) for railroads to petition the FRA to use one-person crews, for either the continuation of existing operations or the initiation of new operations.  Option 1 would require a railroad to submit an application to the FRA, which would then be required to review and approve or reject the application within 90 days.  Existing one-person train operations would be allowed to continue during the 90-day review period.  Option 2 would require a railroad to submit documentation to the FRA demonstrating the safety of its proposed one-person train operations, but it would not require FRA approval before beginning or continuing service.  However, the FRA would reserve the right to investigate subsequent safety issues and to discontinue unsafe train operations.

Moving forward

GO TO 2040 is committed to a safe, efficient freight system for northeastern Illinois, including the rail network.  Across the country, rail safety issues have been particularly salient in recent years after a series of high-profile derailments, collisions, and releases of flammable liquids shipped by rail, as well as collisions at highway-rail grade crossings.  These issues resonate in the Chicago area, which is both a national hub for rail activity -- including crude-by-rail shipments -- and the home of some 1,500 at-grade crossings.

The FRA's proposed rulemaking acknowledges the positive safety impacts of new technologies, including positive train control, being adopted by the railroad industry.  However, the proposal for a two-person minimum train crew recognizes that, while these technologies can improve safety, they do not perform several important physical and cognitive functions currently performed by a second crewmember.  The proposal intends to ensure that the safety risk of one-person crews is properly considered.  Further, the NPRM would exempt very low risk operations and provide two options for railroads to petition the FRA to waive the requirement. 

Option 1 places the burden of proof on the railroad to demonstrate the safety of the proposed operation, which the FRA would then review and approve or reject.  In contrast, Option 2 may not provide for adequate protection of safety.  While it would require railroads to provide information to FRA, Option 2 would allow railroads to operate one-train crews without FRA approval and would only allow FRA to intervene after the fact, leaving a gap in safety oversight.  As such, Option 2 seems to provide less safety protection for the public.  The public deserves the assurance that a thorough risk analysis has been completed, that risks have been properly identified, and that they have been mitigated in advance of any approval for reduced crew staffing.

The NPRM does not specify how the FRA should evaluate proposed one-crew operations.  Several community impact criteria should be included in those evaluations, including potential for an increase in rail-related accidents and injuries should Option 2 be adopted.  Specifically, these criteria should address the potential impacts on highway-rail grade crossing delay for motorists -- a GO TO 2040 regional indicator -- along with potential delay for emergency vehicles. It is critical that no new risks or costs be placed on communities as a rail carrier looks to deploy new technologies.  The burden to mitigate these risks and costs should rest with the rail carrier in advance of deployment.  Further, it is important that these reviews ensure appropriate access to information for first responders in the event of an emergency.

CMAP recognizes that the freight system is not only one of the region's greatest economic assets, but also a key factor in quality of life for local communities.  This NPRM helps to advance both those causes by striking a balance, particularly with Option 1, between operational efficiency and safety.