U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL-3), in a continuation of his efforts to improve and expand service on Metra's Heritage Corridor Line, met with officials from Metra and lawyers from the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to discuss the options available for putting more pressure on Canadian National Railway (CN) to allow Metra to run more trains on the line. Rep. Lipinski, the senior member from Illinois on the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, also had requested of CN, the Canadian company that owns and manages the Heritage Corridor Line, that CEO Claude Mongeau come to a meeting to discuss improving commuter service. CN said the company had no one available to participate in the meeting with Metra and the STB.
"After spending many months and countless hours fighting to get Heritage Corridor riders the service they deserve, I am left with no other choice but to begin exploring next steps, including legislative action that could give Metra more power to force CN to accommodate additional Metra trains on its tracks," Rep. Lipinski said. "Early last year I was able to get CN to sit down with Metra to discuss improving on-time performance on the line and the performance has been much improved.
"But for more than two years I have been working with all of the stakeholders along the line to find a solution that allows one more Metra train in the morning and one more train in the evening. This is a modest request that would still put the level of service on the Heritage Corridor far below Metra's other commuter lines. Metra and two dozen local officials have been supportive in this effort, but CN has continued to drag its feet. CN continues to cite a study that they conducted themselves to claim that $150 million of infrastructure improvements would need to be made to add six trains. While that study is questionable on its own, we are now only asking for the addition of two trains, not six.
"Disagreements between Metra and freight railroads in the region have generally been settled in the past through discussion. I am hopeful that we can still come together in the public's interest so we can improve access to jobs and long-term economic development throughout the region."
While Lipinski is exploring options for legislative action to empower commuter rail lines in disputes with freight railroads, Metra is considering its options under current federal law and regulations. There is precedent for commuter rail lines bringing disputes with freight railroads to the Surface Transportation Board and working out solutions to improve options for commuters.
The Heritage Corridor Line, running between Joliet and Chicago's Union Station, with stops in Lockport, Lemont, Willow Springs, Summit and plans for a new Romeoville station in the works, currently operates just six trains a day -- three inbound in the morning and three outbound in the evening. Metra's other routes offer between 22 and 170 trains a day, leaving a major mass transit gap in the southwest suburbs, despite strong ridership growth on the Heritage Corridor Line over the last decade. In 2012, the line served 682,819 riders, up from 567,342 just 10 years earlier.
Under his leadership, Rep. Lipinski recently was joined by more than 20 local officials, including Metra Chairman Brad O'Halloran, in urging CN to accommodate expanded service in order to expand the commuting options and enhance the employment opportunities and quality of life for the region's residents.
Rep. Lipinski also led an earlier push to improve the line's reliability and on-time performance. Working successfully with Metra and CN, Rep. Lipinski helped to improve Heritage Corridor's average on-time performance from 86.2 percent in 2011 to 95.6 percent in 2012.