Comment: If Amtrak wants more rent for Union Station, Metra should get more control

Metra and Amtrak are fighting over the rent, but what about the service?

Amtrak, which owns Union Station, has declared an impasse in the yearlong negotiations over how much the commuter rail agency should pay to use the facility.

That amount was $9.66 million in FY 2018. Reportedly, Amtrak wants to increase that by several million dollars, but Metra wants to cut it to less than $7 million a year.

Amtrak contends Metra should be paying more because its use of Union Station has increased significantly over the years. Amtrak also says there are “significant gaps in other cost categories, including operating expenses, policing, liability and overall capital investment.”

As a result, Amtrak has asked the federal Surface Transportation Board, the agency that regulates U.S. railroads, to step in and resolve the dispute. Metra agrees. Although the current lease will expire Monday, both sides say no disruption of service or other operational changes will occur at the station.

That’s good news for the 109,520 passengers who ride the six Metra lines, including the BNSF,  that use the station.  

But money isn’t everything. Metra ought to be demanding that Amtrak do a better job of ensuring that commuters get better service. That means reducing the signal and switch problems that frequently cause delays for trains at Union Station. Or ensuring no more human screwups like the one that occurred Feb. 28 when an Amtrak…

Metra ‘attacking’ hot-car problem

Metra trains will run a little slower the next few days because of the excessive heat, but passengers should be cooler, officials promised Wednesday.

The agency announced via Twitter that, as a safety precaution, trains will operate at reduced speeds due to the potential triple-digit temperatures predicted for Thursday through Saturday.  

“Reduced speeds will ultimately result in slightly longer travel times,” Metra warned. The agency explained that when temperatures exceed 95 degrees, Metra is required to reduce train speed by 10 mph to compensate for heat-related stress on the tracks.

“This is a required safety practice that we must follow,” Bruce Marcheschi, Metra’s deputy executive director/chief operating officer, told Metra’s board. 

Most of the Chicago area will be under an Excessive Heat Watch for several days as heat index values could rise as high as 112 degrees in some places. 

But while trains may be slower, improved maintenance of the air conditioning units on Metra’s coaches should make the ride more comfortable, Marcheschi said.

“I’m happy to say this year was a great improvement over last year,” Marcheschi said. The number of reported problems are down by 78 percent, he said. 

“We are attacking this problem,” Marcheschi said. “When we do get a complaint … we get on top of it right away.”

The problem of “hot cars” due to air conditioning failures was especially acute last…