For 150 years, Chicago has remained the nation’s busiest rail hub, with nearly 500 freight trains and 760 passenger trains passing through the region daily.

And with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) forecasting freight transportation demand to rise 37% by 2040 — and six of North America’s major freight rail companies converging in Chicago — it remains a critical region for the industry to improve.

In a recent Smart Cities Dive story, reporter Katie Pyzyk speaks with the Chicago DOT (CDOT) and the AAR on how freight railroads and their partners are investing in infrastructure and technology to increase fluidity in Chicago, ensuring the goods, raw materials and people that power our nation keep moving.

Pyzyk highlights the Chicago Regional Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) Program, which will improve capacity in Chicago, and the tech-forward Chicago Integrated Rail Operations Center (CIROC), which will help railroads efficiently manage that new capacity.

The CREATE program is a public-private partnership between CDOT, AAR and the Illinois DOT, as Pyzyk notes. The $4 billion program, launched in 2003, consists of 70 interrelated infrastructure projects to improve the Chicago region’s rail and roadway transportation network.

The CREATE projects, both individually and collectively, will do more than merely improve freight rail, passenger rail and highway operations in the Chicago metropolitan area, CDOT’s spokesman Mike Claffey told Pyzyak. In addition to allowing an extra 50,000 freight trains to travel through Chicago annually by 2051, “[they are] also providing community mobility, safety, air quality and economic benefits.”

AAR’s Director of Media Relations provided context on CIROC, noting that it is “a 24/7 nerve center that monitors both freight and passenger train operations and facilitates communication. The carriers’ employees at the center keep an eye on metrics including train schedules and routing, and they view rail tracks and real-time train flow via numerous cameras that stream video to shared screens inside the communications center. Carriers’ employees collaborate to ensure efficient train movement throughout the metropolitan area and to prevent system clogging, especially during rush hour.”

“CIROC allows the railroads to better communicate on an ongoing basis to anticipate potential operational problems, review train routing and schedules and improve their ability to mobilize the right equipment, materials, and personnel to keep trains moving through the city,” Kahanek added.

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