Lots of Metra Station, Track, Bridge, Crossing and Signal Upgrades in 2018

Waiting for a Metra Union Pacific-North Line train at Waukegan. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers
Waiting for a Metra Union Pacific-North Line train at Waukegan. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers

Note: The following is based on a Metra press release with details about upcoming infrastructure projects, which I thought would be of interest to Streetsblog Chicago readers. -JG

Despite state funding cuts to Metra’s operations budget that have resulted in fare hikes and service cuts, on Tuesday the commuter system announced a full slate of infrastructure projects this year, with construction taking place at 30 stations, 15 bridges, and 21 road crossings.   

In addition to replacing aging bridges on the UP North and Milwaukee District West lines and building new track segments on the UP West Line, the railroad will be undertaking many other smaller projects across its 11 lines. Work started earlier this month and will be continuing through the fall.

Metra’s 2018 capital budget of $84.8 million includes $5.5 million for station upgrades, $20.9 million for track maintenance and improvements, $12 million for bridges, $4.5 million for rail crossing replacements and $39.7 million for signal upgrades, including $30 million for the implementing federally mandated Positive Train Control safety technology. Additional funding for some of the following projects was previously allocated capital programs or came from outside sources, including municipalities and freight railroads that share tracks with the commuter system.

STATION UPGRADES

Improvements are planned for 30 of Metra’s 242 stations this year. Along the Metra Electric Line, painting and repair projects are slated for the Riverdale, 147th Street and University Park stations. Warming shelters will also be added or replaced at the 63rd, 75th, 83rd, 87th, 91st, and 103rd Street stops on the mainline to University Park. Construction will also continue on a $3 million project to rehab the Hazel Crest Station.

On the Milwaukee District North Line, work will continue on the $7.3 million restoration of the Healy Station and on the $1.2 million project to add 68 car parking spots to the Grayland Station — about $17K per space. The platforms at the North Glenview Station will be replaced and a project to replace the station house at Prairie Crossing will launch. The outside of the Golf Station will be painted and platform lighting will be replaced at Mayfair. By the end of the year, the village of Libertyville is expected to start a $1.1 million project to rehab its station.

On the North Central Service, Metra crews will replace the platforms at the Vernon Hills and Washington Street/Grayslake stations.

There will be five station projects on the Rock Island Line in 2018, including the $2.95 million renovation of the concourse at LaSalle Street Station. Platform replacements are scheduled at the 111th Street/Morgan Park and Hickory Creek stations. New signs will be installed at the 95th Street Station. The old station house at New Lenox will be moved and replaced with a temporary facility until the village builds a new station house.

On the UP West Line, platforms will be replaced at the Kedzie and River Forest stations. Along the UP Northwest Line, the Cumberland Station will be rehabbed and a $2.4 million project at the Cary Station will build a new station house, ticket office and platforms. Construction will continue in 2018 on a project to renovate the station house at Lake Bluff on the UP North Line.

A project to replace platforms at the Western Springs Station on the BNSF Line began in 2017 is expected to be completed this summer.

TRACK IMPROVEMENTS

Metra and other railroads it shares tracks with plan to replace about 92,000 railroad ties this year as part of the following track upgrade projects:

BNSF will replace about 12,000 ties on one of its main tracks between Hinsdale and Aurora. In addition, BNSF will be resurfacing mainline track from Downers Grove to Aurora.

On April 5, Metra started work to replace 17,000 ties from Fox Lake to Libertyville on the Milwaukee District North Line. The work will also include the replacement of five switches, brush clearing and the continued upgrade of the signal system on this section of track in preparation for PTC. The work on this single-track section of the line has required a construction schedule that limits midday service north of Grayslake on weekdays and includes the closure of the line between Fox Lake and Lake Forest for three consecutive weekends in April,

On the Metra Electric Line, Metra workers will replace 10,000 ties on the South Chicago and Blue Island branch lines. The work is scheduled to begin in May. Another 10,000 ties will be installed on the Rock Island Beverly Branch Line. The work is scheduled to begin later in the summer.

Union Pacific Railroad plans to continue or start several projects in 2018. On the UP West Line, work will continue on two multiyear projects to add eight miles of third track to remove bottlenecks that are a significant source of freight and passenger train delays. The two projects combined will cost more than $100 million. The first project includes construction of 1.8 miles of new track from the Vale interlocking in River Forest (just east of the Des Plaines River) to 25th Avenue in Melrose Park. The second project includes construction of 6.1 miles of new track from Kress Road in West Chicago to Peck Road in Geneva. Construction began in 2017 and is expected to continue through 2019. Funding is being provided by Union Pacific and Metra. UP also plans to replace 43,000 ties on the UP West Line as part of its general maintenance program.

BRIDGE UPGRADES

Improvements are planned for 15 bridges on the Milwaukee District West, Metra Electric and UP North lines.

Construction began in fall 2017 along the Milwaukee District West Line on a $34 million multiyear project to replace a 130-year-old single-track bridge over the Fox River in Elgin with a double-track bridge. A portion of the project is being funded through a $14 million federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant. The rest of the funding is being provided by Metra and Canadian Pacific.

Along the Metra Electric Line, Metra will rehab its bridges at 63rd and 64th streets. The $1.2 million project includes the removal and replacement of deteriorated concrete from the bridge abutments and the underside of the bridge decks. The bridges’ structural steel will be cleaned and epoxy coating will be applied to the underside of the bridge decks. Concrete sidewalks and handrails will also be replaced and repaired.

On the UP North Line, Metra will continue a multiyear project to replace 11 bridges for the inbound tracks over Grace, Irving Park, Berteau, Montrose, Sunnyside, Wilson, Leland, Lawrence, Winnemac, Foster and Balmoral. As part of this $45 million project, the new inbound half of the Ravenswood Station will be built. A $15.5 million project will replace rail bridges that cross over Webster Avenue and the North Branch of the Chicago River.  Changes were made to the evening and weekend schedules on the line to allow single tracking through the construction area.

ROAD CROSSING IMPROVEMENTS

Metra and its railroad partners plan to make improvements to 21 road crossings systemwide in 2018, including:

BNSF will replace crossings at Forest Avenue and Main Street in Downers Grove and Prairie Avenue in Brookfield.

On the Metra Electric Line, crossings will be replaced at 90th Street, 73rd Street and Dorchester Avenue on the South Chicago Branch of the line. The Perry Avenue crossing on the Blue Island Branch will also be replaced.

Metra will replace crossings at Devon Avenue and Racine Avenue in Chicago, St. Mary’s Road in Libertyville and Route 120 in Grayslake along the Milwaukee District North Line.

On the Milwaukee District West Line, crossings will be replaced at Narragansett Avenue in Chicago, 73rd Avenue in Elmwood Park, Medinah Road in Medinah and Raymond Street in Elgin.

On the Rock Island Line, crossings will be replaced on the mainline at 95th and 107th streets in Chicago and at Oak Park Avenue in Tinley Park.

Crossings will be replaced at Joliet Highway in New Lenox and North Street in Manhattan on the SouthWest Service Line.

Replacement work will also be performed at First Avenue in Maywood on the UP West Line.

SIGNAL/COMMUNICATIONS IMPROVEMENTS

The 2018 capital program includes $30 million for PTC-related signal and communications projects and another $2 million for signal system upgrades. Some of the costs for work that began in 2017 were included in the 2017 capital program. Similar work is also being performed across the lines controlled and operated by our freight partners.

Metra’s planned signal and communications infrastructure work for 2018 includes:

  • Metra Electric Line – Completion of a $9.3 million project to upgrade the signal system at the 11th Place interlocking.
  • Milwaukee District North Line – Install a new signal system along 17.7 miles of track between Libertyville and Fox Lake, including the construction of six new control points and the renewal of the interlocking at Rondout. The 2018 capital program includes $3 million for the replacement of the Rondout interlocking.
  • Milwaukee District West Line– Continue a $6 million project to install a new interlocking in Elgin and upgrade seven crossings as part of the Fox River Bridge replacement project. Renew interlockers at Elgin and at Almora near the Big Timber Road Station, install a new control point at Franklin Park and renew a control point at Edginton Street in Franklin Park. The interlocking at B12 in Franklin Park will also be modified to accommodate the new signaling system at Edginton as well as signal crossing improvements from milepost 11 in River Grove to Tower B-17 in Bensenville.
  • Rock Island Line – Upgrade the signal system and crossing circuitry on the line’s Beverly Branch for compatibility with PTC, upgrade interlockings at Gresham and near the Brainerd Station on the Beverley Branch and upgrade crossing circuitry at 139th Street near the Robbins Station. Install new control points at Vermont Street in Blue Island and Robbins and renew control points at Mokena, west of New Lenox, Miller and Richards streets in Joliet and the EJ&E interlocking in Joliet.
  • SouthWest Service Line – Complete an upgrade of the signal system at an interlocking near 74th Street in Chicago at an estimated cost of $1 million.

Most work will be performed during off-peak hours and on weekends. Metra will issue construction schedules for its trains during some of these projects. Construction schedules are issued when workers need to be on or very near the tracks, requiring trains to reduce speed or stop before proceeding through the construction zone. These schedules, in general, can add 10 to 15 minutes to the length of a trip. When construction schedules are in place, the modified schedules are reflected in Metra’s web-based Rail-Time Tracker and Schedule Finder and in the Ventra App’s Transit Tracker feature. The construction schedules will be posted on our website at metrarail.com.

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