News & Reviews News Wire Congressman introduces bill to transfer control of Chicago Union Station to Metra (revised) NEWSWIRE

Congressman introduces bill to transfer control of Chicago Union Station to Metra (revised) NEWSWIRE

By Angela Cotey | March 13, 2020

Amtrak says bill — one of four introduced by Illinois Rep. Lipinski — would make it "impossible" to operate

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U.S. Rep. Lipinski has introduced the Improving the Metra Commuter Experience Act of 2020 (H.R. 6226) to transfer ownership of Chicago Union Station from Amtrak to Metra.
David Lassen

Note: revises and updates previous version

A bill introduced by U.S. Rep Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) would transfer Chicago Union Station from Amtrak to Metra ownership — a bill Amtrak says would shut down its operations in Chicago.

The “Improving the Metra Commuter Experience Act of 2020 (H.R. 6226),” one of four rail-related bills introduced by Lipinski, says its purpose “is to improve the operation of Chicago Union Station by transferring certain aspects of operational control of Chicago Union Station to Metra. Metra makes up almost 90 percent of the passenger traffic at Union Station.”

Lipinski has called for transfer of control of the station since a Feb. 28, 2019, incident in which a botched computer-system upgrade disrupted traffic in and out of Union Station for about 12 hours [see “Senator says worker’s fall onto circuit boar caused Union Station signal outage,” Trains News Wire, March 2, 2019]. In November, he indicated he might make the transfer part of the Amtrak reauthorization bill [see “Congressman may seek to strip Amtrak of control of Chicago Union Station,” Trains News Wire, Nov. 19, 2019].

If passed, the bill would require Amtrak to cede control of the station to Metra within 180 days, withholding 5% of its appropriated funding if that does not take place; define operational control to include dispatching of local trains from Canal Street to Alton Junction out of Metra’s control center, set parameters for joint policing, and split some congressional funding for the station with Metra. Text of the bill is not yet available on the website.

But Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari says the bill, if it becomes law, would block Amtrak operations at the station, “as it names Metra as the train dispatcher and then says Metra would not dispatch any Amtrak trains. The only other way to read that provision is to say both Amtrak and Metra would dispatch the same track, which would be like two control towers operating the same runway.

“It would be impossible for Amtrak to operate and Cong. Lipinski’s bill would be a Chicago blockade to regional and national Amtrak service.”

Magliari notes Chicago is the hub of Amtrak’s national network, serving 3.33 million passengers, including services sponsored by three state transportation department, and says Amtrak dispatching of on-time departures exceeds 99 percent.

“Amtrak is working through a process in good faith with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board,” Magliari says. “Amtrak and Metra jointly petitioned the STB to resolve a disagreement between us involving its lease and trackage rights. Staying the course is best option at this time, versus legislation drafted to preempt the STB.

“Amtrak will vigorously work to protect our national, regional and local interests.”

A Metra spokesman declined comment on the legislation.

Other bills introduced by Lipinski, as outlined in a release from the Congressman’s office, include:

“Don’t Block Our Communities (D-BLOC) Act” (H.R. 6223), to reduce blocked crossings and their impact on local communities. Blocked rail crossings at roadways pose several noise and safety concerns for communities in the Third Congressional District, including impeding the flow of traffic and preventing emergency responders from reaching individuals in life-or-death situations.

“Building Much Needed Rail Grade Separations Act of 2020” (H.R. 6224), to increase the number of rail-grade crossing separations (overpass/underpass) around the country. Grade separation projects eliminate wait times for drivers stuck at crossings. For example, the approved grade separation project at Harlem and 65th St. will eliminate delay to approximately 1,000 vehicles daily, resulting in alleviation of 9,400 annual motorist hours of delay.

“Every Person Deserves Peace and Quiet Act of 2020” (H.R. 6225), is to increase the number of quiet zones around railroad tracks. While the Federal Railroad Administration requires locomotives to sound their horns at public highway-rail grade crossings, communities that meet specific safety criteria can establish quiet zones that ban the use of train horns at crossings except in emergencies.

In the release, Lipsinki says, “I am thrilled to introduce this package of legislation that takes into account months of work holding hearings with community members, rail industry representatives, public officials, and passenger advocates to figure out the best way forward to fix problems we see with trains in our communities. … My staff and I listened closely to the concerns of all interested parties and these bills are the culmination of countless hours drafting and fine-tuning. From exploring innovative solutions that will improve safety and end the gridlock caused by idling or broken-down trains in the Chicago area and around the country, to streamlining functionality at Chicago Union Station, these bills can make a dramatic impact. I look forward to discussing these with my colleagues in the Rail Subcommittee and working with them to pass them into law.”


23 thoughts on “Congressman introduces bill to transfer control of Chicago Union Station to Metra (revised) NEWSWIRE

  1. There are no Conservative whatevers period. You got that wrong all the way Mr Smith!.Thankfully this liberal do gooder just got voted out of office,living next to Illinois is like living next to The Simpsons.Marc Magliari is 100 percent right.This would have ripples outside Chicago all the way to both coast.

  2. John Rice – remember that those airports are controlled by the federal government, but used by privately held airlines competing in the marketplace. They have no problem flying on time into airports they don’t own because they have no choice about the airport ownership, and the limiting commodity – airspace – they deal with by padding their schedules to account for taxi and wait time, pretty much the same way trains do (AMTRAK and Metra alike).

  3. @Paul Bouzide: Most of the issues I ran into were freight interference on the UP West line.

    It was either a slow freight going into Proviso from the west, and Metra couldn’t switch over at Elmhurst or it was a NS freight coming up the Rockwell Sub and blocking Proviso from the east and Metra would hold at Western Avenue or Melrose Park.

    Yes I remember those original screaming HEP F40’s. They celebrated 40 years of service in 2017.

    The older Pullman carbon steel cars are gone or were sold to other agencies, but I think they bought some back recently. Most of the later ones I rode were the Amerail or Nippon Sharyo gallery cars. I would occasionally ride the Budd’s on the Aurora Line periodically.

  4. Right you are on the Heritage Corridor freight interference John Rice. Orland Park service too (which is one of the reasons stated for the CREATE 75th Street Corridor project).

    But those do have less ridership, which isn’t to say unimportant, just that their timekeeping doesn’t move the average all that much (most of my Chicago time was on the north side, though towards the end I spent more time on the south side). Elsewhere I didn’t get the sense that freight interference was a huge bugaboo (though any freight breakdown on the UP West or BNSF corridors I’m sure would play hob with Metra).

    When I lived there (and it’s mostly anecdotal, I rode CTA daily, not Metra, which was occasional) I would note breakdowns and gallery car shortages in the news and from colleagues who rode in from the burbs. The fleet at that time was almost entirely composed of old worn out “screaming HEP” F40s and positively ancient cars. Maybe they maintain them decently. Caltrain has a similarly elderly locomotive fleet and I’ve yet to ride one that had a breakdown. Knock on wood!

  5. Mister Singer:

    Yassum, yassum, Massa. I’ll go back to the kitchen now and get your lunch chop chop. Do you want extra bourbon in your mint julip? After all we all know the only use I have in this world, a second if I can cook … and I should not be forgetting my place.

    The above comments are sarcastic in nature and form the basis for an annoyed attorney. They do not constitute normal attitude. I am glad I am not your attorney. Or your wife.

  6. Paul Bouzide sez: “(virtually all poor Metra on time metrics come from either rolling stock or locomotive failures or Amtrak failures at CUS).”

    I too was a long time Metra customer and will differ with you on this point. Most of Metra’s “misses” are caused by freight interference, most of it on the SWS. The next cause is accidents with cars. Rolling stock failures were so infrequent until the recent BNSF gallery car issue came along. Yes, they do have engine failures at times, but it is not the leading cause of any Metra issues. Periodically a gallery car will lose the AC in summer or the doors can’t open, but that was rare.

    In fact engine failures dropped significantly after they installed the overnight block warmers for winter use back in the mid 1990’s. It was probably the best investment Metra ever made and has allowed them to keep the locos much, much longer.

    I think Metra actually tries to serve its customers. I have seen indifference at times and yes there has been some personal corruption at the top in recent memory, but they do take their roles seriously.

    Case in point, when UP was slacking (more than once) Metra didn’t go nuclear, they tried to work it out. When UP was indifferent, then and only then did they take it to the press and lit them up. Apologies and changes came toot sweet.

    Amtrak never goes this way. They sit in DC and whine endlessly about Class 1 interference and indifference. They report to Congress every freaking year about freight causing problems with LD trains, and for 30+ years what has changed? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

    They are so afraid to offend their host railroads because one of their lobbyists may twist a congressman’s arm to cut funding. The fact they still get their budgets cut regardless, gives a pretty good clue on how impotent they have allowed themselves to be.

  7. Ms. Harding:

    Sorry, but quite wrong. Amtrak is so wired in that nobody can do what you suggested, certainly not with the Class 1s of today. Amtrak’s mentality is if we don’t do it, you shouldn’t do it either. Indeed, Amtrak is the perfect monopoly.

    This issue has been devastated by un-vetted wanna be promoters and hucksters who keep on tricking different state programs into believing in Oz.

    Nobody but a P3 between state, local, federal, and rail will even build the ROW you refer to here.

    Frankly, given your approach, I fail to understand why you feel the necessity to throw-up your caveats at the end. I have my own stable of counsels I work with, who do not bother commenting here, or, anywhere else the Elmer Gantry’s exist.

  8. Mister Singer:

    Amtrak does not have a monopoly on intercity passenger rail. Any railroad which desires to do so can pick out two endpoints and institute a passenger rail service between those two endpoints (and any point between), subject only to the usual FRA regulation.

    Remember how Amtrak came to be. The railroads were losing money on passenger service and wanted out. However, they had (and have) a legal obligation to provide passenger service, and in essence they contracted to Amtrak to provide that service on their behalf. While it is a bit more complicated than that, you could look on Amtrak as a subcontractor to provide this service.

    If you have the money you too can set up a passenger rail service. All you need to do is to contract with the existing freight lines for slots, or failing that you can purchase the land for the right-of-way and build new trackage. If you licence as a common carrier you get certain privileges – such as eminent domain, not available to other private businesses.

    Of course, you will have to deal with the NIMBYs, CAVE people, and BANANA folks (to mention only a few), but then there are always those who are more than willing what you can and cannot do with your own property, right down (I’m not kidding) to what colour to paint your bedroom. But Amtrak is more than likely not one of these problems – as I said, they are not a monopoly.

    The above comments are generic in nature and do not form the basis for an attorney/client relationship. They do not constitute legal advice. I am not your attorney. They got a building down on Whitehall Street where you walk in and get injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected and selected.

  9. PAUL B. You want transit balkanization, look at Metro Detroit. It was obvious by around 1980 the two failing transit bus systems should have merged, SEMTA (now SMART) and D-DOT. This is forty years later while both systems circle the drain on their own. The Q-Line trolley between downtown and New Center is a separate thingie while the downtown people mover goes in a circle with no one knowing its purpose or how it’s funded.

    SEMTA (now SMART) was the classic case of a flashy paint job painting over an economically absurd transit system. D-DOT was the dowdy, poverty-stricken city system, while the more colorful and glamorous SEMTA connected the suburbs to each other and to downtown. (I lived in Detroit but could and did ride SEMTA by walking two blocks into Highland Park, a separate city in the middle of Detroit.)

    Back then I thought SEMTA was that cat’s meow, a relatively comfortable and relatively fast bus system compared to the clunky city-owned D-DOT. That is until 1984, when I spent a big chunk of time with a SEMTA manager riding trains in Canada. My friend, a railfan like me, told me the whole thing was collapsing. That was 1984; what has ensued since is thirty-six years of fiscal duct tape.

    As for D-DOT, god help anyone who would ride it. D-DOT’s rule of thumb was 15 mph, meaning if all went well a ride from the Northwest Side to downtown would be an hour (not including waiting out the headway and not including the inevitable transfer). The route structure was a total joke, one bus going only as far as the trolley discontinued decades prior would go, meaning a transfer to go any further.

    Now the voters of the tri-county Wayne Oakland and Macomb are being asked to fund a tax increase for some futuristic transit system, totally undefined. All it will be (if passed) will be another bailout of two long-moribund bus systems.

  10. It’s not like I don’t know squat about Metra though.

    I lived in Chicago 35 years and rode them plenty. I know about RTA Balkanization (rail transport in the SF Bay Area is similarly Balkanized and uncoordinated) with separate bus, CTA and commuter rail fiefdoms. And of course the attendant Illinois corruption (again for the partisan out there I’ll remind that RTA is of necessity bipartisanly run given the makeup that includes Cook County democratic interests and collar county republican ones).

    My impression is that given these challenges not dissimilar to other major cities apart maybe from the Illinois corruption angle, they’re doing a decent job on maintaining and upgrading ancient ROWs in a state of good repair and identifying strategic route extensions and service modifications. As well as doing a decent job operationally given that they’ve not been able to fund rolling stock upgrades at the pace they needed to (virtually all poor Metra on time metrics come from either rolling stock or locomotive failures or Amtrak failures at CUS).

    Like all commuter rail agencies Metra’s also been stuck with the unfunded mandate of PTC both from a funding perspective as well as a well publicized service quality degradation standpoint on the BNSF racetrack, one of their most important lines ridershipwise. And I can confidently claim Chicago is the epicenter of the biggest PTC interoperability and wireless spectrum challenges and that no doubt flows into Metra costs of implementation. That certainly contributes to their inability to upgrade rolling stock as well.

    Metra will benefit from the CREATE 75th Street Corridor project (including adding CUS South Concourse capacity by moving Orland Park service to La Salle Street Station (also benefitting Amtrak), and have already benefitted from the Englewood Flyover and the IHB Proviso and Franklin Park connection reworkings, where I expect Metra planning staff was involved.

  11. I’d be much more supportive of Amtrak garnering air rights and other real estate revenues to fund/subsidize passenger rail a la Virgin/Brightline if they actually proved they could develop, market and execute useful corridor passenger rail services outside of a few exceptions.

    I don’t expect necessarily that Metra would be better in that regard (but probably couldn’t be worse). But at least operational control sounds to me as though it would be better off with Metra.

    Regardless, the real estate angle in and above CUS is an important bargaining chip here, and rightly so.

  12. Mr Lipinski sez; “I am thrilled to introduce this package of legislation that takes into account months of work holding hearings with community members, rail industry representatives, public officials, and passenger advocates to figure out the best way forward to fix problems”

    But it seems he didn’t include Amtrak as part of the “industry representatives” or his dispatch language would have been “fined tuned” for accuracy.

    As for Metra “bloat” mentioned below, unless they are a patronage thing, Metra is a pretty lean operation.

    The only reason Amtrak doesn’t want to lose CUS is because of the real estate. They want to build over the terminal, build more via air rights over a couple of the sheds. This is solid revenue the current management wants to take advantage of. They want to leverage all of this legacy real estate they inherited way back when.

    As for the control of their “hub”, I call out BS. 10% of the volume and they still aren’t on time. Airlines have no problem flying into airports they don’t own.

    Turn CUS into a transportation authority (similar to CDOT) and make it a hub for franchised rail carriers. No different than an airport.

  13. Between the two Illinois U.S. senators so completely subservient to their supreme leader, Amtrak Schumer; compounded by the lack of any in-depth rail advocacy not defined by foamers or a national group compromised by their commercial relationship with Amtrak, Lipinski is not getting the traction he deserves here.

    Indeed, the never resolved issue of Amtrak’s control over CUS should be utilized to kick open the barn door to challenge Amtrak’s monopoly over intercity passenger trains. Congress should recognize the economic imposition of PRIIA upon states not along the NEC enjoying a free ride by opening state-supported routes to competitive bidding or open access.

    CUS is just a sympton of how wrong a government ordained monopoly is for passenger rail; why no Class 1 respects Amtrak nor is quick to work with Amtrak in a P3. The most logical next step is to apply the template of California’s successful approach to regional intercity rail through its Joint Powers Authorities (JPA). Regional state rail, as evidenced by these JPAs, can be successful if not artificially priced and constrained by an Amtrak huddled in its Potomac bunker.

  14. It’s difficult to trust Illinois pols of either party (look up the phrase “bipartisan combine” sometime, and consider that the party affiliation of indicted Illinois pols is running neck and neck, or tell me that the republican-collar-county-controlled Illinois Tollway Authority is cleanly and efficiently run with a straight face).

    I can’t really comment on the level of corruption going on in Lipinski’s office and would not assume it to be zero, nor would I assume it to be as high as the top offenders, he’s at least kept his name out of most articles on Illinois corruption that I’ve read (and there have been many).

    What I do know is that he has done a lot of work to bring in matching funding for projects like CREATE, which have materially improved both freight and passenger capacity and throughput in Chicago, which has national ramifications well beyond Chicago or Illinois. He personally (and/or his staff) regularly demonstrates far superior knowledge about railroading compared to just about any other pol I’m aware of. And he seems to appreciate how important freight railroading is to the economy of his own district (where BRC Clearing Yard is located), the city of Chicago, the state of Illinois and the nation.

    As far as Metra goes, perhaps some of you recall the interlocking control outage not that long ago caused by inexcusable Amtrak staff (or contractor oversight) incompetence. That directly led to this effort to move control to Metra now supported by Lipinski. It seems reasonable to me for Metra to at least control dispatching at the Union Station terminal given the extreme traffic imbalance in their favor. It’s hard for me to imagine that their operational and customer satisfaction incentives would make it worse or less robust than under Amtrak oversight. It’s also hard for me to imagine Metra degrading Amtrak service at the terminal.

  15. More Illinois Democrat waste of time bills when there are so many more important things to take care of.

  16. Could this have anything to do with it? A quote from Chicago TV5 from just a few days ago….
    “One of the most closely-watched contests in Illinois’ primary election on March 17 is the Democratic race in the 3rd District – a rematch between Rep. Dan Lipinski and challenger Marie Newman, now joined by two other candidates on the ballot….Newman is a marketing consultant and anti-bullying advocate who nearly unseated Lipinski in the 2018 Democratic primary, losing by just 2,145 votes. She’s challenging him from the left…”

  17. The LIP is probably getting a kickback from Metra in exchange for the proposal. That’s what they do in Washington and other municipalities across the country. THE REAL REASON IS CASH and how much they are willing to give.

  18. As an occasional user of Chicago Union Station, I struggle to know the problem for which Rep. Lipinski has a solution.

    In any event, seems to me this should be settled between the parties which are Metra and Amtrak.

    I do respect Rep. Lipinski. This man does a lot of good for his constituents and our country. Doesn’t mean he’s always right on every issue.

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