By Richard Wronski / Chicago Transportation Journal
After years of complaints about scant train service, riders on Metra’s Heritage Corridor line are finally getting a break: One new daily train.
Starting March 14, Metra will add a 2:45 pm departure train each weekday from Union Station, Metra Executive Director/CEO Don Orseno announced Wednesday.
The additional train will boost the number of Heritage Corridor runs from six to seven: three inbound morning runs and four outbound runs each weekday. The line has no weekend service.
The Heritage Corridor is Metra’s least-used line, with only 2,400 weekday riders. By contrast, the Electric District line has 170 weekday trains carrying 33,500 riders, and the BNSF Line operates 94 weekday trains, with nearly 64,000 riders.
The new 2:45 pm train will make stops at Summit, Willow Springs, Lemont and Lockport before arriving at its final destination in Joliet at 3:50 p.m.
Orseno said the additional train will provide more convenience and options for southwest suburban customers.
The new service is the result of years of effort by Metra and elected officials along the route to bolster the Heritage Corridor, Orseno said. The new service required agreements from the Canadian National Railway Co., which owns the tracks and operates freight service on the line, and Amtrak, which owns Union Station.
U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, whose district includes much of the Heritage Corridor, has pressed CN for years to allow Metra to add service. In 2013, Lipinski said he was so frustrated with CN that he considered introducing legislation to force the railroad to allow more Metra trains.
On Wednesday, Lipinski said he was pleased with CN’s decision and hoped even more trains could someday be added.
“I’m very happy that this is happening. It’s taken a lot of work to get here but its certainly not the end of the fight,” Lipinski said. “It’s a great step forward but I’m hopeful there will be additional trains in the future.”
On Wednesday, CN spokesman Patrick Waldron said the freight railway had worked with Metra to identify a time when additional service could be added without additional infrastructure investment.
Previously, CN had contended that the Heritage Corridor was being used at full capacity for its freight customers, six daily Amtrak trains and existing Metra service, and that no more commuter trains could be added without significant capacity and infrastructure upgrades.
CN, one of North America’s largest railway companies, also said it believed it should not have to pay to improve commuter rail service.
A 2013 study, paid for by the state, estimated that it would cost $152 million to upgrade the Heritage Corridor to three tracks from two and add six Metra trains per day.
Kendall County officials, meanwhile, made another plea Wednesday for Metra to extend service to that fast-growing region.
The officials, including Oswego Village President Gail Johnson, called on Metra to continue feasibility studies into running the BNSF Line beyond Aurora.
Metra Chairman Martin Oberman, reiterating comments that he made last August, said Metra doesn’t have the hundreds of millions of dollars necessary to pay for such an extension.
“You have your work cut out for you to find the $300 million to $400 million to build it,” Oberman told the officials. He said railroad and Kendall officials planned to meet March 7 to continue discussions.
Metra’s board also approved a three-year, $4 million contract with Pulsar Advertising Inc. to serve as Metra’s new marketing and advertising agency.
Officials said Pulsar will revamp Metra’s marketing strategy with the goal of increasing ridership.
“It drives me nuts why these people (driving on expressways) aren’t on trains,” Oberman said. “Some of them will get on our trains if we can get their attention.”