Metra holds public meeting on its proposed 2020 budget, with $480M in capital upgrades

Chicago's Ogilvie Transportation Center Metra station. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers
Chicago's Ogilvie Transportation Center Metra station. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers

Last month Metra announced that it will be holding the line on fares in 2020 and, thanks to the nearly $45 million Illinois capital bill that passed the state legislature in June, the railroad will spend $2.6 billion for capital improvements over the next five years, with a focus on railcars, locomotives, stations, bridges and service improvements.

This week Metra released a proposed $827.4 million operating budget and outlined $480.5 million in proposed capital investments. Check out the full budget document here.

Capital budget

Over the next five years the state capital bill is expected to provide nearly $1.45 billion to Metra. Add that to $961.8 million in expected federal formula funding, $146 million from the Regional Transit Authority, $26 million in fare box revenue and $4 million from other sources, and Metra predicts it will have the nearly $2.6 billion to invest over the next half decade, more than ever before.

In 2020, Metra expects $205.2 million in state bond funds and $73.7 million in state “pay-as-you-go” or “Paygo” funding – an annual share of funding tied to the state gas tax that will grow with inflation. Funding from federal ($186.7 million) and local ($14.9 million) sources provide additional capital funding in 2020, bringing the total to $480.5 million.

The budget proposes to invest $331.1 million, or about two-thirds, of the 2020 capital cash in five major areas:

  • New railcars and new locomotives, $138.8 million. Metra currently has a request for proposals pending for as many as 400 new cars, and it has asked manufacturers to propose new designs that maximize capacity and add customer amenities, which is good news, because Metra car design is currently stuck in the past. It also is buying some rehabbed locomotives and has set aside some money to buy a prototype alternative fuel locomotive.
  • Locomotive and car rehabilitation, $95.3 million. Metra will continue its “innovative and cost-efficient” locomotive and car rehab programs. It also will fund new programs to overhaul 21 recently purchased Amtrak locomotives and upgrade 54 locomotives with more reliable AC traction motors.
  • Stations and parking, $51.2 million. Metra is working on upgrading its stations, with an emphasis on improving wheelchair accessibility and making sure that every station has a warming shelter. Major station projects included in the 2020 program include a new Auburn Park Station on the Rock Island Line and major upgrades to the 147th Street Station on the Metra Electric Line and Hubbard Woods on the UP North Line.
  • Yard rehabilitation, $23.2 million. Major projects are funded to expand the Western Avenue Yard that services trains on the Milwaukee District lines, the North Central Service and Heritage Corridor, and the California Avenue Yard that services trains on the UP lines. A lack of yard space is a factor limiting Metra’s ability to add service.
  • Bridges, $22.6 million. Metra has nearly 500 bridges that are over a century old. Funding will be used to design and construct the replacement of several bridges, including the next phase of the UP North bridge project involving the design for the replacement of bridges over 11 streets between Fullerton and Addison in Chicago.

Operating budget

Metra says it was able to head off the need for a fare increase by identifying $6 million in efficiencies this year. On top of that, it expects to save about $7 million by not filling vacancies and about $5 million by reducing overtime and other miscellaneous expenses. However, not hiring people to fill those vacant jobs could be counterproductive if it reduces Metra’s capacity for strategic planning or other important aspects of running the railroad.

The railroad says those $18 million in reductions will help offset an expected $23 million increase in operating expenses next year, including about $7 million in new operating expenses associated with Positive Train Control, the federally mandated safety system, and about $16 million in labor and various other operating expenses.

So Metra expects its overall operating budget to increase by $5 million next year, from $822 million in 2019 to $827 million in 2020, a 0.6 percent increase. Higher revenues from the regional transportation sales tax, which funds about half of Metra’s operating budget, will cover that $5 million, so no fare increase will be needed.

The railroad is holding eight public hearings throughout the Chicagoland to discuss the new budget.

Comments on the proposed budget can also be emailed to 2020budgetcomments@metrarr.com, faxed to 312-322-7094 or mailed to the assistant secretary at the Metra Board, Room 1300, 547 W. Jackson Blvd., Chicago, IL, 60661. Comments must be received no later than 24 hours after the last public hearing on November 5. All comments received will be presented to Metra’s Board of Directors before the final budget in November 2019.

2020 Metra budget public hearing schedule

All meetings will be from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Monday, Nov.4

McHenry County
Crystal Lake City Hall
City Council Chambers
100 W. Woodstock Street
Crystal Lake

Will County
Will County Office Building
County Board Room – 2nd Floor
302 N. Chicago Street
Joliet

Kane County
Kane County Government Center
Building A – 1st Floor Auditorium
719 S. Batavia Avenue
Geneva

City of Chicago
Metra
Board Room 13th floor
547 W. Jackson Boulevard
Chicago

Tuesday, Nov. 5

Lake County
Mundelein Village Hall
Village Board Room
300 Plaza Circle
Mundelein

South Suburban Cook County
East Hazel Crest Village Hall
Village Board Room
1904 W. 174th Street
East Hazel Crest,

DuPage County
Clarendon Hills Village Hall
Village Board Room
1 N. Prospect Avenue
Clarendon Hills

North Suburban Cook County
Hanover Park Police Department
Community Room
2011 Lake Street
Hanover Park

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