September 27, 2004

CHICAGO (Sept. 27)—Metra commuter-rail service on the North Central line between Chicago and Antioch is slated to double, while service on the Southwest line will be extended 11 miles further into Will County as a result of federal matching funds released today by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

A USDOT spokeswoman said the Federal Transit Administration is releasing $14.2 million in funds that will help Metra build the additional track and signals while helping local communities build or upgrade stations.

“We’re putting Chicago on track to get more workers to jobs, more shoppers to stores and more families to their homes,” said USDOT Sec. Norman Mineta.

USDOT said $6.2 million of the grant will be used to upgrade the former Wabash railroad’s main line from the current end of Metra commuter service, Orland Park, to Manhattan in Will County.

When the improvements on this route, now known as the Southwest Line, are finished, Metra trains will continue beyond Orland Park, stopping at Palos Park and New Lenox before terminating at Manhattan. Some of the route will be double-tracked, and all of it will be signaled with Centralized Traffic Control. The additional capacity will enable Metra to expand service from the current eight round trips per day to 15.

The other $8.2 million will be used to help Metra beef up the highly successful new commuter route it inaugurated over the Wisconsin Central Railroad between Chicago and Antioch in 1996. The existing route, now owned by Canadian National Railways, can accommodate only six Metra round trips per weekday because it is mostly single-tracked.

The new funds will add a second track, enabling Metra to more than double service to 11 round trips per weekday, including mid-day frequencies that cannot operate now because of freight-train interference.

“The USDOT grant is good news for commuters and good news for rail employees,” said UTU Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo.

“People commuting to work by car over congested highways have been clamoring for more train service, and when these projects are finished, they’ll be able to switch from a nerve-wracking daily drive to a comfortable train ride,” Szabo said.

“And Metra will have to recruit and train additional crew members to man the new services,” Szabo said. “This announcement signals that the growth in rail employment is continuing and is spreading from the freight sector to the passenger sector.”

The recent federal payments are part of an ongoing matching-grant program under which the FTA will pay $103.1 million while locally raised funds cover $95.1 million of the total cost of both projects.

“The dramatic effect of the federal/state match on Chicago’s commuter-rail system should tell us something,” Szabo said. “We need a similar match to fund the CREATE program of infrastructure improvements across the entire Chicago rail network, as well as a matching-grant program to fund mainline improvements nationwide.

“If rails enjoyed even a tiny share of the kind of state and federal support that we give our highways and airports, the efficiency of rail transportation would be like a shot of adrenalin to the U.S. economy,” Szabo said. “Huge volumes of freight would switch from the highway to the railroad system, millions of travelers would migrate from cars and airliners to modern trains, and railroad employment would balloon.”