News & Reviews News Wire Union Pacific announces start of transition of Chicago commuter rail operations to Metra

Union Pacific announces start of transition of Chicago commuter rail operations to Metra

By David Lassen | March 30, 2023

Personnel, equipment maintenance, other aspects to move to commuter carrier, while UP retains dispatching; some issues unresolved

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Commuter train and two freight trains in setting sun.
A Metra UP West line train meets two Union Pacific freights at La Fox, Ill., on Sept. 4, 2020. UP has announced the beginning of a transition of its commuter rail operations to Metra. David Lassen

CHICAGO — Union Pacific is working with commuter rail operator Metra to “safely and seamlessly transfer its commuter operation in Chicago, including the employees who perform the work,” UP announced today (Thursday, March 30), setting the stage for an exit from the commuter rail business long sought by the freight operator.

UP said Metra will take over services including train crew, mechanical, car cleaning, rolling stock maintenance, ticket sales, and some engineering services. Some management employees moved to Metra earlier this year, with union mechanical and transportation employees anticipated to begin to transfer in 2023. UP will continue to maintain and dispatch the three lines used by Metra: the Union Pacific West, Northwest, and North Lines.

Metra said in a statement to Trains News Wire that the two parties “have been working together on a safe, efficient transition of UP’s passenger operations to Metra. We agreed last fall to approach that transition on two separate tracks. Under one, we are addressing the complexities and logistics of the transfer of the relevant responsibilities for operating the service. UP’s release today accurately summarizes that process and timeline. Under the second, financial negotiations are proceeding with legal and real estate teams. It is anticipated that those negotiations will be resolved after many of the logistical aspects of the transfer have been completed.”

Commuter train at station
A Metra Union Pacific Northwest train arrives in Crystal Lake, Ill. David Lassen

In a interview earlier in March for an upcoming Trains magazine feature, Metra CEO/Executive Director Jim Derwinski said, “We’ve always said that we felt there’s no better people to operate those three lines than the people currently operating those lines. So we’re looking forward to welcoming [them] into Metra when the time comes.”

Metra and UP began discussions on changing the nature of operations in 2019, ahead of the end of a purchase-of-service contract covering Metra operations on three UP-owned former Chicago & North Western lines [see “Metra, Union Pacific in talks that could change operating agreement,” News Wire, Dec. 5, 2019].

But the two sides ultimately could not reach an agreement. The dispute went to court and the Surface Transportation Board, with the STB deferring action in 2020 pending a court resolution [see “STB defers decision …,” News Wire, Aug. 7, 2020.] A federal judge ruled for UP in a case in which Metra asserted the freight railroad had a common-carrier obligation to continue the commuter operation, but Metra has appealed that decision [see “Metra asks court to revisit ruling,” News Wire, Oct. 26, 2021] and a decision is still pending.

While Derwinksi said “there are disagreements … there’s some financials behind it and we’ll see what the courts say on some of that,” he also said the Metra-UP “relationship as a whole is good. We understand each other’s role in the region. The UP is constantly showing us that they value Metra’s position and the riders. They’ve said they’re never going to leave us hanging, and they’ve stood to their word.”

6 thoughts on “Union Pacific announces start of transition of Chicago commuter rail operations to Metra

  1. Finally on the fast track. The UP didn’t want anything to do with a commuter operation when they took over the C&NW in 1995. It’s only taken them 28 years to get rid of it.

  2. John, Idk what engine shop you are looking at (UP has only one), but the UP shop at M19 still has big UP emblems on it. Not a METRA sign in sight.

  3. And why would Omaha transfer the dispatching Gregg? If you are comparing this to the CP-KCS deal, it is an apple to oranges comparison. Metra is not buying or leasing the physical plant from UP. UP is transferring the operation and assets over to Metra, including the employees.
    Smooth transition? Personally, I have felt like a lame duck employee the past three years. Meanwhile, Omaha gets to dump 1000 people or so, basically eliminate a service unit, and lower their OR by a few tenths. They ran it for 24 years without an issue, then at the start of the PSR plan they decided they didn’t want it anymore. Just my thoughts on this whole deal.
    And John Rice, the engine shops moved to Metra? The people working there are still UP employees.

    1. On the engine shops, they have Metra signs plastered on the side of the building, so I thought it had moved over as well. If not, my mistake.

  4. “They’ve said they’re never going to leave us hanging, and they’ve stood to their word.”

    On that part, its true. The staffing transfer should be straightforward, but its all the yard real estate in and around Chicago that will take awhile. The engine shops were already moved to Metra, but I think the California Ave. car yard is still UP. There were legacy CNW freight customers on the back yard track (unless they are gone now)

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