Will County officials urge Metra for more lines
By Susan DeMar Lafferty email@example.com July 22, 2014 6:46PM
Metra's CEO Don Orseno and Chairman Martin Oberman preside over Metra's board meeting Friday, July 18, 2014, in the Will County office building. | Susan DeMar Lafferty/Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 24, 2014 6:41AM
When Metra’s board of directors took its show on the road last week to Will County, local officials seized the moment to make a plea for improved service in this region.
John Grueling, CEO of the Will County Center for Economic Development told the board that the commuter rail now serves only eight of the 37 communities in the state’s fastest growing county.
He specifically urged Metra officials to increase the number of trains on the Heritage Corridor line — now with three inbound and three outbound trains daily — and promised to work with them to develop the proposed Southeast line to Crete.
Will County board chairman Herb Brooks urged Metra to “proactively address the transit needs of our community.”
Their pleas are likely to fall dead on the tracks, as service enhancements and expansions are at the bottom of the priority list for capital improvements over the next five years, according to Lynette Ciavarella, Metra’s director of strategic capital planning. The focus will be on maintaining equipment and making it safe, she said.
Metra directors got a peek at preliminary numbers for its 2015 budget from chief financial officer Thomas Farmer, who estimated $49 million in cost increases, a number that will likely be refined when a draft is presented in August, with adoption in November. Of that, $16 million is already confirmed for added labor costs, and another $5 million could be added to improve the aging equipment and infrastructure.
The board could issue bonds to pay for some of the needed improvements, an idea briefly touched on by Farmer in his budget presentation.
There was no mention of a fare increase, but it was noted in the reports that Metra’s fares are significantly lower than other metropolitan areas.
Ridership, which makes up half of Metra’s revenue, is relatively flat, with a systemwide increase of 1.8 percent in the last 12 months. It has hovered at just over 80 million trips for the past five years.
Farmer said they are over budget in operating expenses by $600,000 so far this year, due to the operations and maintenance costs as a result of the harsh winter.
“We are still catching up with normal maintenance,” he said. “We have an aging fleet. The maintenance costs are not being recovered.”
Half of their equipment, while still safe, is “worn out,” which raises maintenance costs and compromises ontime performance, Ciavarella said.
Overall, for the month of June, on-time performance was 93.3 percent, with the BNSF Railway being the worst, at 84.2 percent, and the Electric Line having the best record of 97.4 percent, according to Metra reports. There were 1,120 delays in June, with 234 due to track construction, 183 due to freight, 143 signal failures, and 102 mechanical problems.
Metra Chairman Martin Oberman said BNSF Railway has taken “significant steps” to address this problem, which were outlined by BNSF’s manager of passenger rail services D.J. Mitchell.
Mitchell said they added more personnel during rush hour, and improved their communications and computer systems. With a significant increase in freight, he is working to better coordinate those times.
In other business, Metra directors approved an intergovernmental agreement with the village of Flossmoor to replace the railroad bridge over Flossmoor Road, where Metra operates its Electric Line on tracks owned by Canadian National Railroad. Flossmoor agreed to pay $103,749, and CN will contribute $20,749 to the village. There is no cost to Metra, but Metra’s contractors will do the work.