This morning, The Wall Street Journal offered an editorializing-rich report on the proposed Great Lakes Basin Railroad. "Proposed 280-mile bypass faces opposition from landowners, financing hurdles." Yeah, that's about right.
I went (as promised) to a Surface Transportation Board scoping meeting in Belvidere this morning seeking public commentary on potential environmental impacts. That proved to be a particularly instructive session to attend, as Boone County soils are uniquely suited to growing crops and to filtering rainwater, with permeable subsoils that replenish a number of aquifers. Thus local interests were particularly displeased with the latest proposed routing, which in detail runs through those soils and above some of the more useful substrata. In addition, Boone County is home to numerous family farms some of which might have been established not long after Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis assisted Zachary Taylor in pursuing the Sauk toward the Mississippi River. Thus local interests made a case for conserving cultural heritage in addition to the productive farmland. Finally, there are more than a few Boone County residents who moved there for elbow room, and let's say they're less excited about having a heavily trafficked railroad in view than I might be.
A different cohort of the Board rule on the transportation merits of the project, and public comment on that phase is more difficult, although I am following up on that dimension, motivated in part by doubts about the business plan. Representatives of the Boone County Board, however, did raise questions about the division of revenue and about the practicality of using existing rail lines or building along existing interstate highways rather than running cross-country. That's likely to sit well with property owners who are close to the interstates.
A number of the objections involved emergency responders and school advocates who did not like the idea of long and frequent trains. Those objections may be more theoretical than practical, as the proposed northern end of the Great Lakes Basin begins at Railroad Nowhere in Milton Junction, Wisconsin, and ends at Railroad Irrelevant near the Rockford airport. That station is irrelevant as CNR, the successor to Illinois Central, is unlikely to short-haul itself by handing cars to Great Lakes near Rockford when it can hand them off to the Wisconsin and Southern at Rondout, and CNR owns a Chicago bypass of its own in the form of the old Elgin Joliet and Eastern, never mind the complaints of the good people of Barrington or the western reaches of Naperville about the additional trains. Moreover, unlike the Chicago bypasses of old, which involved such revenue division spats as the Santa Fe short-hauling itself to the benefit of the New York Central at Streator, or Illinois Central short-hauling itself to the benefit of the Burlington at Centralia, the Great Lakes Basin is relying on both the originating and the terminating carrier short-hauling themselves. That's where the transportation merits proceedings bear watching.