Company and local officials on Wednesday said Canadian National Railway Co.'s move to invest $165 million in Gary's Kirk Yard will improve the efficiency of moving freight traffic through the congested Chicago area.
Canadian National, which is one of the largest railway operators in North America, also pledged to employ up to 251 people in Gary by 2015.
Canadian National acquired the 350-acre Kirk Yard as part of its purchase of the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway Co. in 2009. In February, The Times reported that the company was interested in making the rail yard a North American focal point for switching rail cars.
Patrick Waldron, spokesman for CN, said a new locomotive repair shop built at Kirk Yard will service CN's fleet operating across the U.S.
In Gary, the company will build new receiving and departure tracks, and classification tracks, which is where rail cars are sorted and assembled, while increasing the length of other tracks. These moves will help the yard handle longer and more efficient trains and improve interchange with other railroads.
CN also plans to build a wastewater treatment facility, upgrade utilities, renovate buildings and raise the Clark Road overpass during the project to improve truck access to the lakefront industrial area.
By the end of the project, Kirk Yard's processing capacity will increase 67 percent to 2,500 cars per day.
With Kirk Yard serving as the primary classification yard, CN's satellite operations around Chicago will be focused on local pickup and delivery of freight cars to customers.
"This redesign of Kirk (Yard) will give CN a modern, efficient classification yard large enough to handle today's traffic service ... and allows for future growth of our operations in Northwest Indiana," Waldron said.
Waldron did not say what other locations the company was scouting besides Markham Yard, which spans multiple south suburban Chicago municipalities, and Kirk Yard.
Waldron said the move also will free up about 200 acres at Markham Yard for redevelopment near CN's Chicago Intermodal Terminal in Harvey. He said limited switching operations and some trains will continue to move through the yard.
Even with the operations move, Waldron said the Montreal-based company remains committed to the village of Homewood, and its U.S. headquarters remain there.
Don Koliboski, director of economic development at the Northwest Indiana Forum, said CN's investment is part of a larger trend around the country with rail companies making capital improvements with the blessing of the Federal Railroad Administration. He said the investment is also beneficial because it will reduce freight congestion without creating a burden on a heavily residential area.