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New freight, passenger rail services offer more connections to Chicago

CP-KCS train transit time from vessel in Mexico to train arrival in Illinois 7 days

A Canadian Pacific train and a Kansas City Southern train. (Photo: Flickr/Kurt Haubrich CC BY-ND 2.0 & CP)

Efforts to ramp up passenger and freight rail in the Midwest got a boost this week from two separate announcements citing additional opportunities to access Chicago.

Canadian Pacific said Wednesday it is working with Kansas City Southern to launch an international intermodal train service between Lazaro Cardenas in Mexico and Chicago. The first train for this service offloaded containers at CP’s Bensenville Yard in suburban Chicago on Tuesday morning, after having originated from Lazaro Cardenas. 

CP (NYSE: CP) says the transit time from the vessel arrival at Lazaro Cardenas to the train’s arrival in Chicago spanned seven days.

The new interline service is an option for shippers seeking to avoid delays at busy U.S. West Coast ports, CP said.

Furthermore, should federal regulators approve CP’s $31 billion acquisition of KCS, the combined railroad would invest in infrastructure along the route and create a new Mexico Midwest Express interline service, according to CP.

“This Mexico-to-Midwest train is a proof of concept and a sign of things to come if a combined Canadian Pacific Kansas City (CPKC) network is approved by the Surface Transportation Board,” said CP President and CEO Keith Creel. 

While CP and KCS build up their service between Lazaro and Chicago, CP is also involved in another project that seeks to boost passenger rail while also benefiting freight rail operations

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) and Minnesota Department of Transportation announced Wednesday that they have received a $31.8 million federal grant to double passenger rail service and increase freight efficiency along the 411-mile corridor connecting the Twin Cities in Minnesota and Chicago as well as the Wisconsin cities of La Crosse and Milwaukee. 

The Twin Cities-Milwaukee-Chicago (TCMC) intercity passenger rail project would add a second daily passenger rail round-trip service starting in 2024 or sooner. The service would be on the Amtrak Empire Builder and Hiawatha Service trains and would also enable two daily round trips between St. Paul and Chicago.

Federal funding will help modernize sections of track and support station and track improvements, all of which will ease train congestion and speed the movement of freight, officials said Wednesday. These improvements, which would also include grade crossing improvements aimed at reducing gate-down times, could result in $34.7 million in freight cost savings, officials said. The Amtrak service would run on lines owned by CP.

“This vital rail project came together because the federal government not only recognized its importance to the region but the extraordinary collaboration among states, local economic groups and freight and passenger rail,” WisDOT Secretary Craig Thompson said in a release. “The team effort we are celebrating today brings us a stronger and more diverse transportation infrastructure that strengthens supply chains, connects businesses and universities, and brings us all closer together with more travel options.”

Federal funding was provided through the consolidated rail infrastructure and safety improvements grant program, also known as the CRISI grants.

“Through the leadership of [Federal Railroad Administration] Administrator [Amit] Bose, strong partnerships with state and local leaders in Wisconsin and Minnesota, and our productive relationship with Canadian Pacific, we are moving the addition of Amtrak service between the Twin Cities, Milwaukee and Chicago to the forefront of our growth efforts,” Amtrak President and CEO Stephen Gardner said. “While we cannot announce a TCMC start date — yet — know all of us working together can make this happen in months instead of years.”

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.