Thursday, September 30th, 2010
Update 10/2:The Chicago Tribune writes that the project was flawed from the start.
For my national readers, Metra is Chicago’s commuter rail agency. Back in August I strongly criticized Metra’s UP-North Line bridge reconstruction project. My principal complaint was that this project took an existing embankment that supported three track operation and reduced it to a maximum of two tracks. It also involved spending transit dollars to raise bridge clearances for trucks. And it involved an extensive section of single track operation for eight years of construction. As I noted, all of these factors are extensively inter-related.
Of course that [lower impact construction techniques] would be a lot tougher to do if the grade is being raised significantly. That’s a much more complex undertaking and is one reason that this project is going to involve eight years of service disruptions from reducing the line to only one track for an extended distance. (Yes, the right of way is for three tracks, but it is permanently being reduced to two by an eight year project that temporarily reduces it to one).
I called on the Board to conduct an independent review of the project prior to going forward with construction. Other knowledgeable transit advocates also questioned various aspects of this project and asked them to be re-evaluted. But Metra’s management was insistent theirs was the only way.
As I noted last Friday, the result was chaos and huge numbers of angry riders as the single track operation proved far more disruptive than Metra’s management anticipated. After a huge public outcry, today the agency acknowledged the plan wasn’t working and announced it was suspending the project. Trains revert to their previous schedule on Sunday.
I commend Metra for backing off a plan that clearly wasn’t working. Now hopefully there will be an opportunity to review the project and move forward in a way that preserves the three track capability (though not necessarily rebuilding the third track today) and minimizes service disruptions to riders. Ideally also truckers would be forced to pay for any benefits of the project designed principally for them.
Little information is available at present, but hopefully this serves as an impetus to further reforms Metra clearly needs. Let’s not miss this golden opportunity to rethink both this project and the way regional transit agencies approach projects.