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updated: 10/9/2019 8:30 AM

What Metra’s $2.5 billion capital plan means for you

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  • Metra plans new cars and station upgrades with an influx of funding.

    Metra plans new cars and station upgrades with an influx of funding.
    Daily Herald File Photo

 
 

A comfy resting spot, an on-time train and somewhere to keep warm in winter?

For Metra riders with low expectations it might sound too good to be true, but agency leaders on Tuesday promised nearly $2.6 billion in improvements including new railcars over five years.

"It's unprecedented funding for us," planning director Lynnette Ciavarella said.

The uplift comes courtesy of an influx of funds from a $45 billion state capital plan that will leverage additional federal dollars.

Replacing Metra's vintage fleet will mean more reliable service and accommodating more passengers on cars, Executive Director Jim Derwinski said. He also was optimistic about adding trains.

"To be clear, we're concentrating on the current footprint," and not expanding to new destinations, Derwinski said.

"That doesn't mean we're not looking at crossovers (track connections) on some of our lines that might help put more trains" on routes. "It doesn't mean we're not looking at potential condensing of rail yards ... so we can put more trains out there."

If the funding comes through as anticipated, Metra hopes to have 45 percent of its nonelectric railcars replaced with new ones at the end of six to seven years.

Other upgrades could include televisions on trains that broadcast information and "smart cars" that can diagnose mechanical problems in advance, Derwinski said.

Metra will have $480.5 million for capital projects in 2020. Here are some specifics:

• About $139 million for new railcars and locomotives. Metra is developing an order for up to 400 railcars and is seeking designs that maximize seating and amenities.

• More than $95 million to rehab cars and locomotives.

• More than $51 million to fix up stations and parking lots. Major projects include expanding the Elmhurst station, slip-resistant floors at Ogilvie Transportation Center, a new Auburn Park Station on the Rock Island Line, and upgrades to the Hubbard Woods Station in Winnetka on the UP North Line.

• About $23 million to modernize rail yards that serve Milwaukee District, North Central Service, Union Pacific, and Heritage Corridor trains.

• A total of $22.6 million to repair and rebuild bridges.

Director Ken Koehler of Crystal Lake called the bridge budget "peanuts" and pushed for more revenue. "If the bridges fail, we fail," he said.

Metra riders won't see any fare increases next year although Illinoisans will be paying more for gas on Jan. 1 along with other fee and tax hikes to fund the state capital program.

Hearings on Metra's budget are set from 4 to 7 p.m. Nov. 4 and 5 across the region. For locations, go to metrarail.com.