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Englewood Flyover Now Smoothing Out South Side Metra Rides

The Englewood Flyover train bridge unofficially opened three weeks ago, carrying test trains along the Metra Rock Island District tracts. The mile-long flyover, near 63rd Street and Wentworth Avenue, is one of the largest projects within CREATE, a larger program to untangle railroad flows around Chicago. The $141 million project could eliminate 7,500 hours of Metra delays each year that stem from this busy intersection, which sees 78 Metra, 60 freight, and 14 Amtrak trains every day.

Anne Alt is a regular rider of the Rock Island line between Beverly and the Loop. (Anne works for FK Law Illinois, a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor.) Alt described the delays on her commute as erratic: "I can go weeks or months without seeing any delays there, and then go two or three days in a row where my train waits anywhere from a few minutes, to 10 or 15," an appreciable amount on a half-hour ride. Metra's July delay report [PDF] listed multiple delays at the Englewood interlocking, varying from five to 15 minutes long.

Metra will be the only user of the Englewood Flyover, sending its Rock Island trains soaring over three previously intersecting tracks. Metra will soon add a third track to the flyover for SouthWest Service trains, after another CREATE project is constructed. That flyover [PDF], at 75th Street and Normal Avenue, will allow SWS trains to head to downtown Chicago on the RID tracks. The switch would also send SWS trains into LaSalle Street Station rather than Union Station, freeing up room at Union Station for other Metra lines and for Amtrak service to Michigan and Missouri.

Alt said that her first impression of the new flyover was that it "feels real solid." She added, "I'm really hoping that the flyover will help reduce weekend delays, which often make it difficult to be on time for things unless I leave ridiculously early (like a couple of hours early) or take the [CTA] Red Line."

Inbound Metra train
A Metra Rock Island train passing the Englewood Flyover last year, then under construction. Photo: Rick Harnish

Amtrak runs 14 trains daily at this crossing, but it's unclear if and how those passengers would benefit. Amtrak's director of government affairs, Derrick James, said that earlier contracts stated that there would be no performance improvements, but also noted that Norfolk Southern freight congestion delays trains to Michigan and Ohio. Getting Metra trains out of the mix would have knock-on effects for other trains.

CREATE is a $3 billion package of 70 separate projects to fix key intersections where freight rail tracks intersect roads and passenger rail tracks. 22 CREATE projects have been completed so far, leaving over $2 billion in projects yet to be builtMost of the accomplishments to date are roadway grade separations, which reduce stops and improve safety for freight trains and vehicles. The Englewood Flyover, though, is one of the largest CREATE projects that primarily benefits train commuters. 21 projects still don't have funding, including 11 more that could improve Metra reliability.

Yet instead of fully funding projects that will improve existing freight and passenger flows throughout the region -- and particularly facilitate the freight flows that feed the manufacturing and trade industries that are the Chicago Southland's biggest employers -- the state is directing its resources elsewhere.

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