A coalition of labor and environmental groups on Monday called for more investment in freight railroads, including projects such as the $71.4 million Indiana Gateway, as the best means of ending U.S. dependence on foreign oil and creating jobs.

"This is very important for us to move forward in reducing the impact on the environment and reducing our reliance on foreign oil," said Bowden Quinn, of the Sierra Club Hoosier Chapter.

Quinn was joined by Robin Rich, of the United Steelworkers union, and Tom Conway, regional manager of the BlueGreen Alliance, in releasing a report titled "Creating Green Jobs Through Freight Rail Expansion."

The report offered analysis showing 7,800 green jobs are created for every $1 billion spent on improving freight rail infrastructure. Total job creation can reach 26,000 jobs when spin-off and support jobs are factored in.

The report basically characterizes all freight rail jobs as green because freight rail has unrivaled fuel efficiency when it comes to moving bulk goods. A train can move one ton of freight 480 miles on just one gallon of fuel, according to the report. A truck uses about four times that amount of fuel to move the same load the same distance.

"Investing and expanding freight rail is an opportunity to jump-start the economy in Indiana by creating good, green jobs," Rich said.

The BlueGreen Alliance, made up of labor unions and environmental groups, is pushing for a federal tax credit for freight rail projects to spur an increase in about $15 billion per year spent on such projects in the United States.

The report released Monday also showed freight rail workers earn an average hourly wage of $26.33, compared to an average hourly wage of $15.12 for all transportation jobs.

In addition to direct rail employment, manufacturers that fabricate products such as steel plate for rail cars and diesel engine blocks generally make better than average wages, Rich said. The USW has more than 1,000 members in Northwest Indiana working at shops and mills that manufacture freight rail products.

The report also touts public-private partnerships between freight railroads and passenger railroads. Once such project is the Indiana Gateway project that won $71.4 million in federal high-speed rail stimulus funds earlier this year.

That project will alleviate rail bottlenecks at Porter Junction in Porter all the way to the Illinois state line on tracks owned by Norfolk Southern Corp. That rail corridor is one of the most delay-prone in the country, with 87 freight trains and 14 Amtrak trains per day jockeying to get into and out of Chicago.

The Indiana Department of Transportation hopes to have detailed agreements on the project worked out between Amtrak, Norfolk Southern and the Federal Railroad Administration by the end of the year, according to Jim Pinkerton, INDOT LaPorte District spokesman.

Design work then would take place in the first quarter of 2011 and construction could begin soon after, Pinkerton said.

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