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How to capture — and keep — the value of rail cargo in Chicago

Joe Cahill’s excitement about the inclusion of logistics companies on Crain’s Fast Fifty list is well-deserved. It’s true that transportation, and especially rail, is vital to our regional economy. But rail is valuable only to the extent that it is integrated with good land-use decisions so that it actually serves communities and industrial districts, and that the extended value of rail cargo is captured and kept in the region. That’s why the privately funded rail bypass Mr. Cahill referenced, one that would run along the proposed Illiana Expressway, is not the answer. We should be cautious about building rail at our exurban fringe. Such development may have its place for simply moving products through our region, but when we locate rail and related job centers at these fringe sites, we lose — and even reverse — the potential economic and environmental benefits of rail. To maximize the value of rail, we need to focus our industrial development efforts on rail-served locations, especially around intermodal freight terminals, in existing communities. New information technologies can increase the capacity of these facilities without having to move them to larger greenfield locations, meaning more of our precious landscape and farmlands remain intact and more precious dollars remain in local tax bases. A good example of public action to stimulate this type of cargo-oriented development is the South Suburban Brownfield Redevelopment Zone, created as part of recent state legislation. Please click here to read the rest of  Kathryn Tholin’s opinion in Crain’s.

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