August 1, 2017 2:45 PM, EDT

Proposed Chicago Bypass Freight Railroad Responds to Opponents in Filing

Railyard Near ChicagoDavid Harmantas/Flickr

Great Lakes Basin Transportation entered its response July 31 to opposition groups’ arguments that its application to build a 271-mile freight railroad from northwest Indiana to southeast Wisconsin should be rejected.

In filings earlier this month to the federal Surface Transportation Board, opponents asked for rejection on the grounds that GLBT’s application doesn’t detail financing for the $2.8 billion project, nor does it show commitments from prospective users of the line.

GLBT responded July 31 that potential investors need STB approval before they’ll commit. And the railroad argued that the need for the freight line, which would serve as a bypass around Chicago, is so clear that customer demand is certain.

‘Developer puffery’

The Chicago-based attorney representing six groups hoping to block the railroad, including the RAILED group in northwest Indiana, argued in a July 10 filing that the GLBT application should be rejected due to a lack of financing details.

“A general reference to a private source of funding does not constitute adequate evidence of financial ability to undertake a track construction project,” attorney Thomas McFarland wrote, citing several cases he argued back this claim.

Further, “there is no evidence whatsoever in the application of a public need or demand for the rail line proposed by GLBT,” McFarland argued.

RELATED: Controversial proposal for $8 billion private freight rail to bypass congested Chicago

The group Save Our Farmland, of Rock County, Wis., filed its petition for rejection of GLBT’s application July 14, making similar claims and arguing that farm owners already are being hurt.

“Save Our Farmland submits that the mere pendency of GLBT’s application — the threat of cutting through their farms — creates a cloud on the titles to their lands and diminishes the going concern values of their farms,” its team of attorneys argued.

“Absent a substantive demonstration of financial capability and the support of prospective users of the proposed railroad line ... the GLBT application amounts to little more than developer puffery that has the unfortunate consequence of inflicting real harm on farmland and farms in and near the proposed route of GLBT’s speculation.”

A ‘no-brainer’

Railroad officials responded July 31 that the governing statute “states that the (Surface Transportation) Board ‘shall issue’ a certificate permitting construction and operation of the rail line ... ‘unless the Board finds that such activities are inconsistent with the public convenience and necessity.’

“The regulations do not require information that is as granular and assured as ... opponents suggest,” GLBT attorney Michael Blaszak argued.

And in an accompanying statement, GLBT Vice President James Wilson said officials have received a positive response from investors. “Some of these potential investors, in view of the projected growth of rail traffic over the decades to come, have gone so far as to tell me that the GLBT opportunity is a ‘no-brainer,’ “ he said.

Further, “GLBT has shown that there is now, and will be in the future, sufficient freight traffic to support the construction and operation of a new rail line around Chicago,” Blaszak argued.

GLBT also claims the proposed railroad’s impact on Rock County farms is “only one factor to be considered” and “has no bearing at all on the adequacy of the application itself.

“The application should be accepted for filing by the board and consideration of the transportation merits of the proposed new rail line should commence,” GLBT’s filing concluded.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC