Frank Patton explains his ideas for the Great Lakes Basin Railroad

Frank Patton explains his ideas for the Great Lakes Basin Railroad last year. 

John J. Watkins, The Times, File

A 60-day deadline has passed for Great Lakes Basin Transportation to appeal in federal court the rejection of its application to build a 261-mile freight railroad from LaPorte County to southeast Wisconsin.

The Surface Transportation Board rejected GLBT's application on Aug. 31, starting the 60-day period.

"The failure of GLBT to appeal certainly brings an end to the current proceeding," said Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, which is among the groups that has battled GLBT in court.

Learner said any new application would require GLBT to show financial resources it did not show in its rejected application. 

In that ruling, the STB said the company had "failed to provide the board with accurate financial information upon which the board can rely to make a determination on the transportation merits of the project."

GLBT's financial position, the STB ruled, was "so clearly deficient for purposes of constructing a 261-mile rail line that the board will not proceed with this application given the impacts on stakeholders and the demands upon board resources."

GLBT could still petition the STB for administrative reconsideration, but that petition would need to show "material error, new evidence, or substantially changed circumstances" from the STB's original ruling.

Learner argued neither appeal process — judicial or administrative — would have worked. 

"You can't just go into the board and say 'I have an idea,'" Learner said. If a proposal is to work, GLBT "would have to show them the money."

Company officials declined Monday to comment on any future plans. They had previously argued that potential investors were awaiting federal approval before committing to the project.

The railroad would have allowed freight trains passing through Chicago to avoid the congested city by looping around it. Plans called for it to have 26 connections to other railroads, including two in Lake County and six in Porter and LaPorte counties.

The construction cost was estimated at $2.8 billion.

Chairman Frank Patton founded Great Lakes Basin Transportation in 2011. An environmental review process, overseen by the STB, began last year, but was suspended in December at the request of GLBT so it could concentrate on completing the now-rejected application. 

Passage of the deadline for judicial review reassured project opponents, including Porter County Commissioner Laura Blaney, D-South, who said it helps lift the "cloud of uncertainty" the area had been living under.

"The STB really stepped up and did their job, and that’s great to see," Blaney said.

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Transportation reporter

Andrew covers transportation, real estate, casinos and other topics for The Times business section. A Crown Point native, he joined The Times in 2014, and has more than 15 years experience as a reporter and editor at Region newspapers.